Foods containing GM golden rice can be sold in Australia and New Zealand

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Golden rice, with beta-carotene, can be sold in Australia and New Zealand, which also means there will be no increase in price of food with co-mingled rice. ©GettyImages
Golden rice, with beta-carotene, can be sold in Australia and New Zealand, which also means there will be no increase in price of food with co-mingled rice. ©GettyImages
Products containing traces of golden rice, which is genetically modified to produce beta-carotene, should be able to be sold in Australia and New Zealand, regulators have ruled.

It follows an application to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) ​ from the humanitarian organisation International Rice Research Institute, which cultivated the GR2E rice line to mitigate vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.

The regulator stressed the application was based on trade issues and did not permit the rice to be grown in Australia or New Zealand.

“The Institute intends for Golden Rice to be grown in developing countries. Permitting Golden Rice in the [Australian] Food Standards Code would mean if small amounts were present in other shipments of imported rice there would be no trade issues,” ​it noted.

What this means

This means that there would be no cost involved in having to exclude GR2E grain from co-mingling and hence that there would be no consequential need to increase the prices of foods that are manufactured using co-mingled rice grain, said the regulator.

In approving the application, FSANZ stated that food derived from Golden Rice would have to be labelled as ‘genetically modified’ because it would contain novel DNA and novel protein.

“FSANZ has determined that Golden Rice would contain novel DNA and novel protein, as well as an altered nutritional profile (contains beta-carotene), and would be required to carry the mandatory statement ‘genetically modified’ on the package label,”​ it stated.

“This requirement would apply to rice sold as a single ingredient food (e.g. a package of rice) and when the rice is used as an ingredient in another food (e.g. rice flour, rice milk).

Another product from the rice is rice bran oil. Under the labelling provisions, rice bran oil derived from Golden Rice would be unlikely to require labelling because it would not contain novel DNA or novel protein, or have an altered nutritional profile because beta-carotene would not be present.

The need for functional food

The Institute wants the GR2E rice to be cultivated for humanitarian purposes in developing countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines which are at high risk of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and where 30–70% of energy intake is derived from rice.

While acknowledging that GR2E rice will not solve the issue of population-based VAD for these countries, it believes it can be a major part of an overarching strategy to reduce deficiency.

Countries wishing to adopt the Golden Rice technology are free to introduce the GR2E event into preferred varieties that suit the local environment and meet certain criteria outlined in a Humanitarian Use Licence Agreement, subject to local regulatory arrangements.

In 2013 Australia imported 145,370 tonnes of milled rice (representing around 45% of the rice consumed). The main suppliers were Thailand (49%), India (19%) and Pakistan (13%) (FAOSTAT 2017). In the same year, New Zealand imported 42,381 tonnes of milled rice with the main suppliers being Australia (39%), Thailand (26%), and the US (13%).

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation has been notified of FSANZ’s decision.

Similar applications are currently under review in the USA, Canada and the Philippines. 

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