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Summit News

After China, Philippines may approve GMO rice

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines may follow China as the next Asian country to approve widespread planting of genetically modified rice crops, possibly as early as 2011, an industry expert said on Tuesday.

A worker displays a handful of rice at a market in Hefei, Anhui province November 27, 2009. REUTERS/Jianan Yu

The Philippines, the world’s largest rice importer, is one of several countries currently in field tests for GMO rice crops, Robert Zeigler, director general of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit.

Golden Rice, a Vitamin A-enriched grain developed by the IRRI is being bred into local varieties as well in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Vietnam as part of testing to ensure safety, he said.

“There’s some possibility that it would be the Philippines that will get approval next, for Golden Rice. Probably late 2011 or early 2012,” Zeigler said.

“Bangladesh will follow very shortly thereafter and India, probably a year or two later.”

China approved the safety of a locally developed insect-resistant Bt strain of rice last November, opening the door to widespread introduction of the GMO crop within about three years.

With a gene bank of around 100,000 rice varieties, IRRI breeds high-yielding strains of rice to meet growing demand.

The institute kickstarted the Green Revolution in the 1960s that boosted harvests of the staple food for nearly half the world’s 6.8 billion population.

VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY

The availability of Golden Rice, which contains genes from maize and other sources of beta-carotene, was expected to address the deficiency of the micronutrient, Vitamin A, especially among the poor in Asia.

Over 90 million children in Southeast Asia suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, more than in any other region, according to IRRI, and the introduction of Golden Rice in the Philippines may be largely meant to benefit public health instead of boosting yields to curb imports.

China’s newly approved pest-resistant variety could be used for up to 40 percent of the rice crop in the country, the world’s top producer and consumer of the grain.

PRESSURE ON RICE SUPPLY

Zeigler said there is continuing pressure on global rice supply with a reduced amount of both water and land available for rice production which should prompt concern and study.

The El Nino weather anomaly, which can induce drier weather in Asia, is also a threat to production, he said.

“We need to have a combination of sound government policies to develop rice supplies and these policies need to be based on solid scientific research,” said Zeigler.

Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Ed Lane

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