MASIPAG upholds farmers’ action against the Golden Rice field trials

We, the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development), fully uphold the farmers action to uproot the Golden Rice plants at the DA Regional Field Unit No 5 in Pili, Camarines Sur last August 8, 2013. Likewise, we also commend the sectoral organizations, networks and alliances that supported and united with the farmers in their call to stop the Golden Rice field testing. Farmers have had enough of the lies and deception concocted by IRRI, Philrice, DA and Syngenta.

Rice is life for Filipinos. But it is also a huge market that corporations are itching to put their hands to. It is no secret that companies such as Syngenta and other Agrochemical TNCs heavily are invested in the development of Golden Rice, using it as a promotional material, a poster boy for GMOs at a time when more and more countries are rejecting GMOs. Corporate interests are ingeniously masked by promoting Golden Rice as a ‘humanitarian’ mission. Indeed, they are using the victims of poverty and malnourished children as excuse to promote a product that will pave the way towards more profit and control of biotech corporations to food and agriculture.

Golden Rice is owned by agrochemical giant Syngenta, further developed by IRRI to cast an image of public science, and field tested by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to project an image of being Filipino. The Department of Agriculture, amidst its Organic Agriculture Law (RA 10068) has also thrown its support to the field experiments. But the truth is that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who now owns $24M worth of stocks in Monsanto (another biotech company), has donated $20M to IRRI for field testing and commercialization of the Golden rice.

This unmasks the reality that biotech corporations are using public institutions (that are also willing to be used) as conduit to make Golden Rice acceptable to Filipinos. Once commercialized, Golden Rice will not only bring health and environmental problems, but will also ensure huge profits to biotech corporations. These are all tell-tale signs of corporate take over of food and agriculture. And clearly, there is no such thing as free lunch.

Golden Rice sends a wrong message on how to address malnutrition and hunger. Instead of increasing diversification of food sources, which also provides much needed nutrition, the people are being offered a single crop that address only Vitamin A deficiency.

While debates still exist on the issue of safety, proponents dismiss these and are put on the wayside. Worse, Golden Rice promoters label the farmers who asserted their right to health and balanced ecology as anti-science. The fact is that the farmers want independent, unbiased science that will truly establish the safety of Golden Rice. The Golden Rice field testing was conducted amidst the lack of sufficient safety studies in contained environment which should minimize and control any potential risks. Golden rice is a genetically modified organism (GMO), meaning it has a set of genes that never existed in rice and historically not eaten by humans. With the growing body of peer-reviewed studies showing that GMOs exhibit unintended health and environmental effects, genetically engineering rice will have a huge effect on rice eating nations such as the Philippines. For Golden Rice, we have yet to see any sub-chronic and chronic studies, toxicity studies or the complete chemical characterization of the transgenic rice which presents not only beta carotene levels but the level of carotenoids and anti-nutrients that might have been the result of the genetic engineering process. Likewise, safety should have been addressed through animal feeding tests (but not human feeding tests) before any field testing take place. However, this is the state of affairs as proponents insist on the faulty assumption of substantial equivalence. The claim of the proponents that Golden rice will save children from getting blind is not science at all but speculative thinking to say the least.

The risks of field tests contaminating adjacent fields or future rice crops in the area are also ignored or denied, symptomatic of ‘the titanic is unsinkable’ thinking. But concrete experiences have shown costly unforeseen events. For example, an unapproved GM trait on rice was detected in China while the contamination of long grain rice from field testing of genetically modified LL601 in the southern United States in 2006 affected 11,000 farmers and lost $150M in rice sales. In June this year, an unapproved wheat contaminated farmers’ field also in the U.S.

Golden rice advocates are boasting that the Philippines has a strict and transparent biosafety framework. However, this is just a framework. No less than the Court of Appeals in its decision on the Writ of Kalikasan on Bt eggplant field testing said that there is no biosafety law in the Philippines to safeguard the constitutional right to health and environment. The country’s DA Adminstrative Order No 8 which regulates field testing and commercialization is also lax and pro-GMO, promoting bioentry rather than regulation. For example, specific areas of the field trials were not disclosed by the BPI, making public information and dialogues more difficult.

IRRI, its local counterparts and international allies are spreading lies that farmers who uprooted the Golden rice are illegitimate. To them, farmers do not have the capacity to comprehend what GMOs are and cannot possibly act autonomously. We condemn the statements alleging that farmers protesting against Golden rice are uninformed and were paid to make damages. This kind of disinformation is an insult to the wisdom of farmers who, in the first place, have been feeding the world since time immemorial.

We are united with the Filipino people that Vitamin A deficiency in particular and hunger in general should be swiftly addressed. Vitamin A deficiency should not be seen as a separate problem on malnutrition which can be answered with simplistic and techno-fix solutions, but as a symptom of a worsening hunger and poverty crisis which needs a more comprehensive approach.

MASIPAG stands with the farmers and sectors that uprooted the Golden rice in Bicol and calls for the immediate stop of the field testing of Golden rice in the other locations. We call on all social organizations and networks to support the rights of farmers, communities and consumers to assert their rights to health, balanced ecology and food sovereignty. MASIPAG vows to fight Golden Rice and other GMOs, including other forms of corporate control in agriculture. We are for science, not corporate research. We say yes to safe and sufficient food for all!