WASHINGTON — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $10.3-million grant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines to fund the development of Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice containing beta carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A.

Globally Vitamin A deficiency alone accounts for 670,000 childhood deaths each year and causes 350,000 cases of childhood blindness, health officials said.

Millions of people rely on rice for up to 80 percent of their daily food intake, and many lack access to or cannot afford nutritious food containing Vitamin A.

In Southeast Asia alone, more than 90 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

Rice contains negligible amounts of beta carotene so genetic modification is required to boost micronutrient levels.

The grant will develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for the Philippines and Bangladesh with the aim of applying for regulatory approval of these varieties as early as 2013 in the Philippines and 2015 in Bangladesh.

The Gates Foundation said to ensure the safety and effectiveness of Golden Rice the grant includes rigorous safety testing, compliance with international standards, and adherence to the regulations and laws of the countries where they operate.

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have been working with IRRI on Golden Rice for several years.

They are leading the development of Golden Rice varieties in their countries.

“We are conducting our breeding carefully to make sure that the new Golden Rice variety retains the same high yield, pest resistance, and excellent grain and eating qualities while helping to address the pervasive problem of Vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines,” Dr. Antonio Alfonso, chief science specialist and Golden Rice team leader at PhilRice, said in an article published in the IRRI website.

(Jose Katigbak)

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