In a Laguna-based rice research institute, scientists have been growing yellow-colored grain, a new rice variety designed to combat Vitamin A deficiencies (VADs) in developing countries.

The yellow-colored grain, known as “golden rice,” was developed by Swiss and German researchers in 1999 to increase the nutritional value of crops.

“Golden rice” has beta-carotene, which is not normally present in rice.

Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A when metabolized by the human body, improving the immune system and vision.

In most developing countries (like the Philippines where about 40 percent of its daily diet comes from rice) that are dependent on the grain, Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent.

Vitamin A deficiency can have numerous negative health effects that can lead to blindness, a weakening of the immune system, and an increase in the severity of disease and mortality.

The World Health Organization has estimated that about 250 million preschool children are affected by Vitamin A deficiency and that Vitamin A supplementation could prevent 2.7 million childhood deaths.

However, there is a problem concerning “golden rice,” which many countries have not adopted since its introduction decades ago.

There are some groups, like Friends of Earth and a Philippine-based MASIPAG, that oppose the growing and use of “golden rice,” saying it will not really solve Vitamin A deficiency.

They said “golden rice” is unnecessary because there are cheaper programs to combat malnutrition that do not require genetically modified organisms (GMO).

They also argued that “golden rice” is a flawed project.

There are also social and cultural issues. The yellow color of rice may not be acceptable because of social and cultural history in some countries.

The real issue here is not how the rice variety would be fortified with Vitamin A. It’s because the rice variety is actually a genetically modified organism (GMO), which is banned in some countries like the United States.

Some studies showed there could be a potential risk to human health in consuming “golden rice” as well as environmental concerns in cultivating it.

But the United States, through the Rockefeller Foundation, has been promoting it and convincing poor countries, including the Philippines, to grow and eat “golden rice.”

There were some studies that showed that the “golden rice” variety produces very little beta-carotene or only about 10 percent of the daily requirement of Vitamin A and therefore, would not eliminate Vitamin A deficiency.

The potential safety and risk of GMO could also outweigh the Vitamin A supplement.

There should be a more thorough study on the consumption of “golden rice.”

However, the US has been pushing for “golden rice” not only in the Philippines but also in other countries, like rice-producing Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India.

Through “golden rice” projects, the US was helping large biotech companies gain public approval of GMO products.

In a way, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian states are being used as testing sites for the new and more dangerous GMO products.

The rice-consuming populations in Southeast Asian states, like the Philippines, are made “guinea pigs” to test the “golden rice” which, up to now, after more than two decades, has not been adopted globally because of risks.

Bayer, which now includes Monsanto, wanted to make sure its experiment on “golden rice” would succeed after signing on with the Department of Agriculture to the project.

Since 2004, the farm department has been developing “golden rice” or what is known as “malusog” rice after the GMO project was donated to the private Golden Rice Humanitarian Board and transferred to the Philippines.

Instead of helping the Philippines develop a flood- and drought-resistant rice variety and increase productivity, the US is focusing on GMO products.

The Philippines produces an average of 20 million metric tons of rice every year but it is not enough to feed more than 110 million people.

It imports about 2 million metric tons annually from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. The agriculture department feared that the onset of the drought period, induced by El Niño, could affect production.

The Philippines should channel its resources to mitigate the looming rice crisis instead of putting its meager resources on experiments like the “golden rice.”

There is a global food crisis due to the conflict in Ukraine, as well as sanctions imposed by the United States and the promotion of GMO products.

Globally, the US is also trying to control grain in the food market to gain profit and test GMO products, disregarding the health and safety of millions of people.

Greenpeace and other anti-GMO groups have been asking some hard questions about “golden rice.”

Some are questioning how sustainable the “golden rice” project is.

Is beta-carotene converted into Vitamin A in malnourished children? Does the crop sustain after long periods between harvest seasons?

Could “golden rice” be incorporated into traditional cooking methods?

These questions remain because of a lack of studies that demonstrate the future safety of “golden rice” to human health and environment.

It will probably take many years to resolve the fight for and against GMO products, particularly on “golden rice.”

But President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is also the agriculture secretary, could help by looking seriously at the disadvantages and negative effects of “golden rice.”

He should not be swayed by US food policies and prevent GMO products from entering the local markets and protect Filipinos from potential GMO poison.

End the “golden rice” experiments. Filipinos should not be the testing ground for GMO products, not just GMO rice. It is better to grow organic crops than dangerous and hazardous GMO products.