Senator, nutrition experts support research on healthier rice

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LOS BAÑOS, Laguna -- Rice is the largest part of the Filipino diet and healthier versions of the staple can go a long way in helping solve key health concerns, as well as improve public health in general.

Philippine Senator Cynthia A. Villar made this statement today at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), affirming contributions made by rice scientists, in a keynote message during the Forum on Food Nutrition and Security.

Villar, chair of the Philippine Senate's Committee on Agriculture and Food, also said that “IRRI’s Healthier Rice Program plays an important role in fighting the prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among Filipinos.”

In celebration of Philippine Nutrition Month, IRRI organized the forum jointly with the Provincial Nutrition Action Office of Laguna Province, the Philippine National Nutrition Council (NNC) of the Philippine Department of Health, the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), and other partner organizations.

More than 200 representatives from the academe, the health and nutrition community, local government, and policymakers participated in the forum, held on July 23.

In line with the approach promoted by global nutrition experts advocating a toolkit approach of interventions, Villar said that 'to supplement healthier rice varieties, there is also a need to encourage Filipinos to eat more vegetables.'

Collaborative efforts among IRRI, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and others to develop healthier varieties of Asia’s major staple figured prominently in a series of information sessions for nutrition action officers. Speakers included experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in the Philippines, FNRI, NNC, PhilRice, and a local women's group called Sulo ng Pamayanan.

Sulo is a nonprofit group organized by IRRI that helps women become effective leaders in the local community.

A day-long exhibit featured work on improving the nutritional status of Filipinos by the following: World Food Programme, PhilRice, FNRI, Helen Keller International-Philippines, Institute of Human Nutrition and Food of U.P. Los Baños, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, ACF International, and Long Live Pharma.

“Rice science can contribute to closing gaps in nutrition, in the Philippines and in other rice-consuming countries,” said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s deputy director general for communication and partnerships. “We remain committed to the fight against micronutrient deficiency through our healthier rice program.”

IRRI is developing rice varieties that have higher levels of iron, zinc, and beta-carotene. These rice varieties can complement current strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. The Institute supports the efforts of the Philippine government—through the DOH, NNC, and the FNRI—to end malnutrition in the Philippines and in other rice-consuming countries.

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