Farmer-scientist group exposes controversial technology
Golden Rice will endanger Filipino
farmers and consumers
Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG today exposed the impacts of Golden Rice saying that it is nothing more than a tool to deceive people into accepting genetically modified foods in people’s farms and tables. According to the network, Golden Rice proponents and lobbyists are merely using the malnutrition issue to sell their technology at the risk of the Filipino peoples’ health and the country’s agrobiodiversity. The network also denounced the visit of Allow Golden Rice Now!, a Canada-based advocacy group which is currently in the Philippines promoting the adoption of Golden Rice.
Golden Rice is a genetically engineered rice that has been modified to express beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, which is one of the essential micro-nutrients that the body needs. Golden Rice, which is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), will supposedly address Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) in developing countries such as the Philippines. A known pro-Golden Rice lobby group, the Allow Golden Rice Now! headed by Dr Patrick Moore, is in the country at present to promote the technology amidst the intense rejection and resistance of farmers and consumers.
MASIPAG however, believes that Golden Rice is only intended to project a clean and wholesome image for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and make it acceptable, since Golden Rice is aimed for so-called “humanitarian purposes.”
“Proponents claim that the high case of VAD in poor countries like the Philippines can be solved by Golden Rice, and that it is a crime against humanity not to allow it,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “We believe however, that the only crime being committed is subjecting rice, a staple food of millions, to an unsafe and yet unproven technology.”
Dr. Medina cites recent studies and pronouncements of various scientific bodies and authorities that point to the possible negative impacts of genetic modification. According to several studies, genetic modification alters the original genetic make-up of the organism, producing new chemical products that can have negative, unintended and uncontrolled consequences.
“Golden Rice has not been tested for safety,” said Dr. Medina. “The only testing that the proponents have done was to determine its agronomic traits thru open field testing, which has failed miserably.”
In 2014, IRRI has announced that it has pushed back the commercialization of Golden Rice due to its very low yield performance. At present, there have been no studies on allergenicity and toxicity of Golden Rice, which should be first established in animal feeding trials before feeding trials on humans commence. So far, the only feeding test of GM rice conducted were in China, which was met with ethical issues as the project leaders failed to inform the children and their parents that it was GM rice they were feeding them with.
A guise for corporate control
MASIPAG believes that while VAD is a serious concern, there have been cheap, practical and viable ways to address the issue that have contributed to its decline. In fact, the percentage of children aged 0-5 years with VAD have already decreased to about 15% in 2008, mainly from the Department of Health (DOH) interventions such as Vitamin A supplementation and food fortification.
“We have many traditional food and crops that are rich in Vitamin A,” said Virgie Nazareno, a MASIPAG farmer from General Nakar, Quezon. “We do not need Golden Rice, what we need is access to these nutritious and safe foods.”
MASIPAG has been at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement in the country for almost 30 years putting emphasis on developing food security among the resource-poor farmers in the country.
“So if we have an abundant source of Vitamin A-rich foods, and that the government has so far successful in addressing VAD, why push for Golden Rice?” asked Nazareno. “We believe that Golden Rice, whose research has been hijacked by agrochemical company Syngenta, is meant to gain control over our rice and agriculture.”
Golden Rice is largely tied with patenting issues, which could jeopardize millions of farmers who rely on free sharing, saving and improvement of seeds. Syngenta, while claiming that the Golden Rice will be made royalty-free for farmers earning ten thousand dollars or less a year, has not yet relinquished their more than 70 patents to the Golden Rice technology.
“That alone is highly suspicious, and which should serve as caution to us farmers,” said Diego Dela Cruz, Jr. a farmer from Agusan del Sur, and a prolific rice breeder of MASIPAG. “When these companies get hold of our seeds, poor farmers will have to buy seeds again and again, leaving us dependent on these TNCs. We cannot trust these corporations who are willing to endanger millions of farmers and consumers just to gain profit.”
Golden Rice will not solve hunger and malnutrition
“Micronutrient deficiencies are largely observed among children in poor families since they cannot afford a well-balanced diet,” asserts Dr. Medina. “In that case, Golden Rice is not the solution; what is needed rather is the peoples’ access to resources.”
MASIPAG further asserts that the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches to ensure food security and not thru market or profit-oriented approaches. Golden Rice will never solve VAD but would only strengthen this status quo, benefiting only those interested in controlling the nation’s agriculture sector. ###