SEARCA: Policy support needed for biotech

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) is boosting support for favorable agri-biotechnology regulatory policies amid calls for the revocation of the commercial permit of Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice.

Believing agri-biotechnology is the key to food security and uplifting farmers' lives, SEARCA said it has partnered with three expert groups for the program to boost expert knowledge in regulations on living modified organisms, which include farm products more known as genetically modified organisms (GMO).

This is through the opening of the program "Second Asian Course on Agribiotechnology."

SEARCA Director and National Academician Glenn Gregorio highlighted the agency's important role in advancing science-based innovations to address poverty and food security.

"We stand behind products of agri-biotechnology that increase agricultural productivity to feed a growing population in the midst of dwindling natural resources and erratic changes in climate," he said.

"Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that gives them a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges they face and to open up better opportunities for them and their families so that they can have better quality lives," Gregorio added.

This year's Asian Short Course on Agribiotechnology gathers 25 participants from both public and private sectors of eight countries. These are China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

SEARCA has partnered with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center, and Monash University in Australia for the initiative.

The program also focuses on biotechnology regulation and communication.

While the Philippine government recently approved the permit for use for food, feed and processing of Golden Rice, Greenpeace has reportedly filed a petition for the permit's revocation.

Golden Rice, a GMO, has been questioned over the insertion of gene into its grain that enables the staple to produce increased Vitamin A. It is targeted at preventing blindness that develops in about 500,000 people, mainly children, yearly, according to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board.

"Nearly nine million children die of malnutrion every year. vitamin A deficiency severely affects their immune system, hence it is involved in many of these children's deaths in the guise of multiple diseases. Malaria deaths in children under five years of age has been linked with deficiencies in the intake of protein, vitamin A and zinc," the board said.

Golden Rice will have huge economic impact for poor farmers as they no longer have to invest more on seeds. The technology is being offered for free by humanitarian groups that helped in its development.

Developers include Sygenta, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and International Rice Research Institute, among others.