Anti-GM group calls for Golden Rice review in Australia and New Zealand

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

FSANZ made it clear that food derived from Golden Rice would have to be labelled as ‘genetically modified’.
FSANZ made it clear that food derived from Golden Rice would have to be labelled as ‘genetically modified’.

Related tags Golden rice Rice

Campaign group GE Free NZ wants regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to review its draft approval for Golden Rice, which is genetically modified to produce beta-carotene.

Golden rice (or GR2E) was cultivated by the humanitarian organisation International Rice Research Institute to mitigate vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.

FSANZ recently recommended​ that products containing traces of golden rice should be able to be sold in Australia and New Zealand.

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.

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.

Opposition voiced

However, Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ, questioned the efficacy of the product and urged the Minister for Food Safety Damien O’Connor to ask FSANZ to review the its draft.

She said: “A person would have to eat 4kg of cooked rice, (assuming it was fully absorbed and eaten immediately after harvest with minimal cooking) to get the same level of vitamin A that one medium carrot or 1 tsp. parsley would provide."

“As this rice is only being approved to prevent trade disruption, we ask the Minister to call for a review of the GM rice, and insist on comprehensive 90-day feeding trials that should have been provided before the approval was made.”

In approving the application, FSANZ also made it clear 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.

Free to introduce

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.

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