Unmasking two decades of lies about Golden Rice

Almost two decades have passed since the biotechnology industry launched its work to create Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop allegedly meant to combat malnutrition. Yet it still has not been commercialised anywhere in the world. A new report from GRAIN, MASIPAG and the Stop Golden Rice! Network sheds light on the flaws and failures of Golden Rice and unmask the question whether the world really needs Golden Rice or is it another seed industry’s public relations efforts in favour of Genetically-Modified (GM) crops.

Golden Rice continues to be hailed by its proponents as a panacea to cure Vitamin A deficiency. But evidence has shown that Golden Rice has much lower levels of beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, than sweet potatoes – an abundant and natural source of Vitamin A that can easily found in all the target countries for Golden Rice commercialisation. Further, more than half of the level of beta-carotene in Golden Rice is known to decline while in storage. Unsurprisingly, the recent safety approval of Golden Rice by the United States Food and Drugs Administration (US FDA) came with an explicit note saying that the level of beta-carotene in the rice is too low for it to be presented as particularly nutritious.

Meanwhile, target countries for the commercialisation of Golden Rice like the Philippines and Bangladesh have managed to lower their respective Vitamin A Deficiency levels over the years through dietary improvements and other methods which are more cost-effective and proven to be safe.

The pro-Golden Rice camp is seen as peddling a GM product that is not tested nor proven to be safe, and using it as a Trojan horse to open the door to other genetically-modified crops and livestock.

“Golden Rice is a techno-fix to malnutrition and a corporate ploy to control our agriculture,” says Cris Panerio of MASIPAG. “Asian people and the rest of the world do not need Golden Rice.” Indeed, the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches that ensure people have access to diverse sources of nutrition. Securing small farmers’ control over resources such as seed, appropriate technologies, water and land is the real key to improving food production and eradicating hunger and malnutrition.

The report is available in http://www.grain.org/e/6067

 

JUSTICE FOR ATTY BEN, FARMERS’ RIGHTS ADVOCATE

“They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds. – Mexican proverb”

The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) strongly condemns the murder of Atty Benjamin Ramos, peoples’ lawyer and advocate for farmers’ rights and farmer-led development. Atty Ben is one of the most recognizable leaders of MASIPAG (through his NGO Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group or PDG) having served as member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) from 1998-2016. As BOT member and legal consultant, he helped develop the network’s policies and ensure that MASIPAG’s farmer-led principles are upheld. Atty Ben staunchly promoted farmers’ rights to land, seeds and technology.

Atty Ben was gunned down by two unidentified men riding in tandem around 10pm in Kabankalan City on November 6. He has long been under military surveillance because of his involvement with land dispute cases, environmental and human rights issues. Last April, Atty Ben was among the mass leaders and development workers in Negros who were tagged as members or supporters of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

MASIPAG has consistently denounced this malicious red-tagging of Atty Ben, along with other farmers and leaders who are only fighting to reclaim what is theirs – land from the landlords, seeds from corporate control and technology from corporate-biased research institutions. For years, Atty Ben has helped mold the policies and principles of MASIPAG that put the interests of the poor farmers front and center of our sustainable agriculture programs. As one of the founding members of MASIPAG in the Visayas region, PDG as headed by Atty Ben, instituted and embodied the farmer-led development, a development paradigm that is now being recognized and echoed in many organizations in and outside of the country. Atty Ben believed in the agency and capacity of the farmers to uplift themselves from poverty and food insecurity and helped raise their consciousness to their plight and what they could do to free themselves from landlessness, poverty and dependence. Many of the farmers he helped were once daily-wage sugar plantation workers who after MASIPAG and PDG intervention have shifted to sustainable and organic agriculture.

Atty Ben is the 34th lawyer killed under the Duterte administration. His cold-blooded murder is an attack to the peoples’ rights to development. Killing development workers and human rights defenders further weakens the nation’s thrust for genuine development, especially in the rural areas wherein services brought by development workers and organizations are most needed.

Atty Ben was a true servant of the masses. His death is a terrible loss to all the peasants and organizations that he has worked with, including MASIPAG farmers and NGOs from all over the country. He is gone, but we will continue to honor his legacy and draw strength and inspiration from his selfless service to our farmers.

We condemn the brutal killing of Atty Ben! We demand that justice be served for him and all the victims of extra-judicial killings! #

Farmers to Philrice: Serve the Filipino Farmers, Stop Promoting Golden Rice

November 7 –Farmers from various provinces of Luzon met the 33rd anniversary of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) with protest in Munoz, Nueva Ecija and a resounding call to halt the impending field trials of Golden Rice. The rice, genetically modified to express beta carotene to supposedly combat the worsening cases of Vitamin A Deficiency has been applied for field testing and direct use for food, feed and processing with the Philrice as the project leader. Claiming that they have complied with the regulatory requirements, including the approval from the Sanggunian Bayan, the field trials are expected to commence this November.

However, farmers and various consumers groups remain concerned that issues on health and environment safety have not been fully addressed, and are calling for moratorium on the impending field trials.

“We are calling on our local leaders in Munoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela to reconsider the Golden Rice field trials until the farmers and the people have the full assurance of its safety,” said Cris Panerio, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “Until now, there have been no reliable, independent safety studies about Golden Rice.”

Panerio added that the field testing that the Philrice will conduct will only look at the physical and agronomic traits of the GM plant. “Even with the existence of the regulatory policy that includes the Dept of Health, it remains to be seen if they indeed have the capacity to test for safety of Golden Rice to humans.”

Farmers from MASIPAG and other organizations including the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) and DAGAMI will troop to the local government of Munoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela bearing petition letters calling for the field trial moratorium.

Rice in Crisis

“Our rice industry is in crisis because of the neoliberal policies that favors the interest of huge corporations,” said Joseph Canlas, secretary-general of AMGL. “Philrice is likewise guilty of putting the corporate interest first instead of coming up with a comprehensive solution to address rice productivity and safety.”

“It is quite alarming that our Filipino rice scientists are willing to expose rice, our staple food to a technology that has low potentials but high risk,” said Joel Bacdayan, MASIPAG farmer from Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.

Recent studies have shown that traditional rice in India showed stunted growth when bred with Golden Rice, thus affecting their productivity and yields. Meanwhile, a study by Schaub, et al showed that the latest version of Golden Rice, the GR2E has very low beta carotene content which was likewise noted by the US Food and Drug Authority (US FDA).

Golden Rice, a tool for control

Why does Philrice still promote Golden Rice when it can cause stunted plant growth and has in fact low beta carotene content?

MASIPAG believes that Golden Rice is being heavily pushed despite the availability of local food that have higher beta carotene content because of its role to ease the public into accepting genetically modified food. “Once Golden Rice has been commercialized and the public have been conditioned into accepting and consuming it, then other GM foods are sure to follow,” said Panerio. Already, reports abound of other GM food in the pipeline such as Golden banana, Golden Potato, purple antioxidant rice and GM zinc and iron-fortified rice.

“If we allow Golden Rice in our fields and our tables, we might lose our traditional rice and local foods,” said Lorna Ganaba, a MASIPAG farmer from Kalinga. “The Golden Rice issue is not only about science or research as Philrice says, but it is an issue that can impact indigenous culture and identity.”

Experience from GM Corn

Isabela is among the provinces that widely adapted and propagated GM corn, the first GMO introduced and propagated in the country. However, experiences have shown that GM corn failed to improve the poor farmers’ lives. A 2012 research on the socio-economic impact of GM corn in the country shows that poor farmers are driven to indebtedness due to the high cost of GM corn production. Farmers incur as much as Php 19000 negative net income in a particularly bad season, which they will try to augment by borrowing more money from exploitative financers.

“Our bitter experience with GM corn has cautioned us against another genetically modified crop,” said Cita Managelod, a leader from DAGAMI. “What we need right now are concrete support and mechanisms to protect our farmers such as in times of disasters and crises.”

Farmers and consumers groups from Isabela also held a protest action in November 6 at the Philrice San Mateo station, one of the Golden Rice field trial sites.

“We have to learn from these bitter experiences that GMOs will not address poverty and hunger among farmers and consumers,” said Panerio. “Poverty and hunger are complex issues that need comprehensive solutions such as genuine agrarian reform, and farmer-centered technologies that will improve rice and food production so that our children and our people can have access to safe, nutritious and affordable diverse food.” #

MASIPAG condemns red-tagging of network’s staff and farmer leader

MASIPAG condemns the red-tagging of network staff Alfonso Shog-oy and farmer leader Basilio Prado, both long-time sustainable agriculture practitioners and environmental advocates in the province of Nueva Vizcaya. Leaflets bearing the names of Shog-oy and Prado, along with forty other names, were being distributed in the municipalities of Kasibu, Quezon and Bayombong. The leaflet states that the persons listed in the leaflets are either NPA members, recruiters or contacts. Shog-oy and Prado were being maliciously tagged as “NPAs in cities/municipalities”. As such, these persons are now open targets of harassment, intimidation and possible assassination under Duterte’s militarist regime.

With Shog-oy and Prado’s names and several personalities coming from progressive organizations in Nueva Vizcaya who are known critics of large scale mining in Kasibu, Runruno and Dupax del Norte in the said province. The names include scientist entomologist and AGHAM Secretary General Feny Cosico, Fr Vic Tiam, retired Catholic priest and Board Chairman of Alyansa ng Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (ANVIK), Atty. Edu Balgos, Provincial Board Member of Nueva Vizcaya among others.

Shog-oy, an Electrical Engineer by profession, has been MASIPAG’s Area Coordinator for Northern Luzon since 2016. Before being MASIPAG’s staff, he is an active farmer organic practitioner and active councilor serving two terms in his barangay. Prado is one of MASIPAG’s prolific farmer trainor; giving voluntary service to peoples organizations needing skills development on trial farm establishment, soil fertility, alternative pest management among others. He also chaired MASIPAG’s Provincial Consultative Body, leading a number of sustainable agriculture practitioners and farmer groups in Vizcaya and nearby provinces as well.

Much of the farmers that they helped organized are affected by the foreign-owned commercial large scale mining operating in Nueva Vizcaya, who after their intervention are now engaging into sustainable and organic agriculture. Clearly their participation in bringing change and uplifting the lives of the farmers, and their critical stand on the present policies on agriculture and the environment in the Philippines make them a target of this red-baiting campaign.

“The inclusion of our names (personalities and individuals who actively participated in the anti mining campaign in Nueva Vizcaya) in the list of alleged rebels is malicious and dangerous. Whoever is responsible for this aims to destroy our names and discredit our efforts to protect the environment and to advance people’s rights. We are angered and deeply concerned with this because it is putting our lives in danger, knowing the fact that there are bounties for rebels arrested or killed and records show that there are lots of unresolved cases of EJKs happening around us, sometimes involving even lawmen themselves. We fear for our safety but we will not back down. What we are fighting for is just and right. It is for the benefit of the people, of this generation and the future. You can stop us, arrest or kill us anytime, but until the people’s issues are properly addressed there will always be another us, they will continue the struggle until victory is achieved for the people” said Shog-oy.

MASIPAG strongly condemns this malicious and vile attempt to discredit development work among communities and an affront to the people’s right to development. Red-tagging of development workers such as Shog-oy and Prado will only weaken the nation’s thrust for genuine development, especially in the rural areas whose services brought by development workers and their organizations are most needed. It is very unfortunate that these acts are being made at a time when the country is facing problems on rice shortages, food insecurity and environmental degradation. Critics of the government are being tagged as terrorists, which is very unacceptable for a democratic country such as ours.

MASIPAG calls on the government to observe and respect the people’s right to development, and to protect the rights of development workers against intimidation and harassment. #

#StopForeignLargeScaleMiningInNV!
#StopRedTaggingAndVilification!
#DefendFarmersRights!
#StopCriminalizingDissent!

World Day of Hunger Due to Militarization and Martial Law in Mindanao

DAVAO CITY— Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG Mindanao scored today’s ‘World Food Day’ celebration as millions are hungry around the globe, calls for sustainable use of resources in agriculture.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization celebrates October 16 as ‘World Food Day’, but it is best fitting to describe this day as World Foodless Day or World Day of Hunger. The Philippines especially in Mindanao is facing food crises, we witnessed surging prices of our country’s staple rice, Zamboanga City declared a state of calamity few months ago.” In a statement by Leo XL Fuentes, Regional Coordinator of MASIPAG Mindanao.

According to the 2018 data of globalhunger.index.org hunger in the Philippines was categorized as serious. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization in 2017 noted that 815 million people were hungry, 520 million of which comes from Asia. Aside from climate change, regions with conflict has higher prevalence of hunger. Out of the 815 million hungry people, 489 million are in conflict areas.

“Even here in Mindanao that is under Martial Law the continuing militarization in rural communities resulted to displacements, damages of farms, and killings of farmers and subsequently severe hunger. We have a problem in food yet the current government does not have a comprehensive plan to support our farmers, land-grabbing by aggression projects of plantations and big-businesses continue. 162 farmers were killed under the Duterte administration, majority of which is in Mindanao.” Fuentes added.

The farmer-scientist network explained that, hunger as a complex social problem can only be solve through a comprehensive program that is farmer and people-centered approach. For MASIPAG the corporate and business oriented agriculture since green revolution failed millions of Filipinos.

“We cannot solve the food problem if we kill and persecute our farmers, we need to advance their right to land, seeds and post-harvest facilities among other social services.”
MASIPAG Mindanao commemorated the World Day of Hunger with ‘Lumad Bakwets’ displaced indigenous people of Mindanao seeking sanctuary in UCCP Haran through a Salu-salo sa Kabus (Food-Sharing for the Poor). #