Few Filipino farmers know of the benefits of golden rice

ITHACA, N.Y. -- It is not that Filipino farmers don't want to grow genetically engineered "golden rice." It's just that most have never heard of it.

In the Philippine province of Nueva Ecija, most farmers don't know that golden rice exists, even though the crop is fortified with beta-carotene to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, particularly in children. But if farmers could be convinced the rice is healthy to eat, marketable and provides a good yield, then they would consider growing it, according to Mark Chong, a Cornell University doctoral candidate in communication, reporting his exploratory research in the latest issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology (Correspondence, Sept. 1, 2003).

"This study shows that both awareness and knowledge of golden rice among the [farming community] leaders is almost nonexistent. Moreover, only one barrio leader [among 32 of the communities interviewed] had any knowledge of what a transgenic crop is," says Chong.

Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in over 100 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is particularly acute in Africa and Southeast Asia, where it is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.

Today there are more than 100 million vitamin A-deficient children around the world, according to WHO. It is estimated that 250,000 to 500,000 of these children become blind every year, and about 50 percent of those die within a year. In Asia and Africa, nearly 600,000 vitamin A-deficient women die from childbirth-related causes.

In the most recent National Nutrition Survey (1998) conducted in The Philippines, about 8.2 percent of children (aged 6 months to 5 years) and about 7.1 percent of pregnant women were Vitamin A-deficient. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) like golden rice as well as diets rich in vitamin A can help change these sobering statistics, but few science issues in recent years have elicited such polarized public reaction as b

Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Cornell University News Service

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