Monthly Archives: April 2015

GOLDEN RICE AND GM CROPS WILL LEAD TO ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH PROBLEMS

Farmer-scientist group calls to stop GM crop commercialization on Earth Day

 

Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG today called on the government to call off the planned commercialization of Golden Rice and other GMOs, saying that GMOs causes environmental and health problems. In a call to protect the earth’s fragile ecosystem, MASIPAG farmer members all over the country today have simultaneously placed placards on their farms, declaring it as GM Free. They are also encouraging communties to talk to other farmer groups, government units, academe and the church to educate them about how GM farming and chemicals harm the environment and human health.

“On Earth Day, we are encouraging farmers and other sectors to join the growing movement against GM crops. As farmers we greatly depend on the richness of the Earth. We give respect on the balance of nature; the relations of every living organism in our farms and the environment. The Earth is our only home, and GM crops are causing more harm to our already burdened planet. We can help our planet recover by adopting sustainable and safe agriculture practices, and do away with GMOs and chemical inputs.” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG National Chairperson.

GM Crops, A Major Threat To The Environment

In the Philippines, GM corn plantation has increased from 10,000 hectares in 2003 to a staggering 700,000 hectares. The country has also been importing more than 60 kinds of GM crops used as direct food for people, as feed for animals or for processing. These include genetically modified corn, soya, canola, potato, sugarbeet, cotton and alfalfa. Agrochemical companies and government agencies such as the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture (DA-BPI) say that GM crops contribute in lessening the impacts of climate change. They claim that biotech crops’s encourage ‘no-till’ practice, thus preventing the release of greenhouse gases from the soil. They also claim that with GM crops, pesticide and chemical inputs will be reduced.

Studies have shown however that GM crops, along with the chemical pesticides being used, pose serious threats to the environment.

GM crops that confer pest resistance, such as Bt Corn or Bt eggplant, soon after would create immunity of the pest to the pesticidal crops, and the GM crops are easily attacked by pests other than the target insect. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil microbe whose trait that produces toxins were used to develop the GM crops. Pests are now becoming more resistant to these toxins, eventually forcing farmers to apply more pesticides. The same is true with the use of herbicide in herbicide tolerant crops, as reports of herbicide resistant weeds are on the rise. Currently, 21 weed species were reported to be resistant to herbicides damaging 120 M hectares mostly in the U.S. and Argentina. In 2011 alone, approximately 5.6M liters of the chemical herbicide glyphosate (or Round Up) used in herbicide tolerant GM corn is being dumped in our country per season.

Apart from the effects in the environment, glyphosate has been reported to be toxic to cells, cause abnormalities to children (teratogenecity), tumor, carcinogenicity, autism and endocrine dysfunction. Recently, glyphosate has been implicated in kidney disease of people drinking water from wells contaminated by the herbicide in Sri Lanka. This year the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization categorized glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans.

Agrobiotech companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta are developing ‘stronger’ crops to combat pest resistance problems. GM crops with ‘advanced’ toxins, additional toxins (such as toxins for rootworm control) or tolerance to other herbicide applications such as 2,4-D, a chemical used in Agent Orange, are in the pipeline or are already in the market.

GM crops also creates new pests, which before are only secondary pests of the crops. In a study made by MASIPAG, farmers report that the pest waya-waya, or leaf hopper is now damaging GM corn fields in Iloilo and South Cotabato. Herbicide run-off from GM corn plantations also destroys natural vegetation cover, exposing the soil to increased erosion. The remaining forests are also under increased pressure as herbicide use easily clears vegetation, to prepare the area for GM corn farming.

“GM crops are creating more and more pressure to the environment. It is not true that by using GM crops, chemical applications will lessen. In fact, the herbicide resistant crops were designed primarily to to be applied with more herbicides. More and more chemicals are being applied in these crops, leading to increased pest resistance, new pests, soil erosion and forest degradation. Eventually, GM crops will leave our farmlands and the environment in a devastated state. We should quickly stop this” said Dr Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG.

After more than 10 years of GM corn commercialization, the DA-BPI has never conducted a comprehensive post-commercial monitoring on the effects of GM corn. Mr Seguiro added that “the spread of GM crops thru cross-pollination also gets unnoticed. Recent reports state that white corn, which is being used as staple food in Visayas and Mindanao, are now contaminated with traits from GM corn. Now the genetic diversity of our corn varieties are already polluted. We, the farmers have always fell victim to these unwanted, toxic, and dangerous technologies.”

The farmers also feared that the vast varieties of rice in the country will also be contaminated. Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice to produce beta carotene in its grain, was set to be commercialized in the Philippines. In 2013, farmers and other sectors uprooted the genetically modified crop, which was targeted for release in the same year. “If not for the brave farmers of Bicol, we will be facing a much bigger problem of GM rice contamination” added Mr Seguiro.

Protect the Environment, No to GM Crops!

In spite of the increasing presence of GM crops in the country, MASIPAG stated that the people can act to stop the proliferation of GMOs in food and agriculutre. “It is not too late, we can still act to protect the evironment and the people” added Dr Medina.

In 2013, the Philippine Court of Appeals ruled to stop the field testing of the genetically modified Bt egplant. The court granted the Writ of Kalikasan (Writ of the Environment) on the grounds that there is no scientific consensus on the safety and impacts of Bt eggplant to the environment. The court also highlighted in the case of Bt eggplant, precautionary principle is applicable in the light of uncertainties and inadequacy/ ineffectiveness of the current regulatory system.

The continuous actions by farmers and the proponents’ failure to increase the yield of Golden Rice have set back the commercialization of the said GM crop for one to two years. More and more communities, municipalities and cities are also adopting ordinances against the planting of GM crops in their areas.

“We encourage everyone to step out and be heard. The GM Free Farm signages that we are now spearheading is but a very small step in educating our farmers on the negative impacts of Golden Rice and GM crops to the environment. We can dialogue with local government units and encourage them to promote organic agriculture and prevent introduction of GM crops in their respective jurisdiction. We must educate consumers, especially the mothers, to reject GMOs and to call for safe and sustainable food. We can also talk with other environmental groups on the importance of sustainable agriculture as a complementary program to protect our fragile ecosystem. We must protect our planet, this is our life support system and our only home” stated Dr Medina.###

Farmer-scientist group deplore secretive visit of Bill Gates to IRRI, Golden Rice commercialization possible agenda

Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG expressed distrust in the recent visit of IT mogul and American billionaire Bill Gates to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last April 8. Together with his wife Melinda and members of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the visit expectedly has something to do with the IRRI’s various research on genetically modified Golden Rice. Bill Gates has been reported as one of IRRI’s biggest private donor.

“While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a philanthropic organization, its focus is on high technological solutions like chemical farming and GMOs, thus  we believe that the projects that they are funding will only cause further trouble among the poor farmers and consumers,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG.

The BMGF has been supporting food biofortification programs, which includes fortifying staple crops such as rice and cassava.  It is also supporting the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which is suspected to repeat the same mistakes of the Green Revolution in Asia.  In 2011, the BMGF donated about US$10.3 million dollars to IRRI for the development of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that is touted to address Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) problems in developing countries, including the Philippines.

Golden Rice is genetically modified to express beta-carotene, the pre-cursor of Vitamin A.  Apart from the donations of BMGF, about US$100 million dollars has already been spent in the development of Golden Rice from 1991 up to 2000. The GM rice is being developed to supposedly combat VAD, a condition that has been successfully addressed in the Philippines through various fortification and supplementation programs by the national government.

Golden Rice has been met with resistance from farmers’ groups and other concerned civil society organizations as its safety to health and environment has not yet been ascertained. Farmers also claimed that Golden Rice will lead ultimately to control of seeds by huge agrochemical companies. In August 2013, more than 400 farmers and consumers uprooted the clandestine Golden Rice field trial in Pili, Camarines Sur as a show of intense protest.

Golden Rice, Tool for Corporate Control

While Bill Gates has been hailed for funding huge amounts of money on IRRI’s climate-tolerant and biofortified rice varieties, speculations about his interest in controlling food and agriculture began to surface. Gates now owns about 500,000 shares worth US$23 million dollars of Monsanto stock. Monsanto, one of the world’s largest agrochemical and lifescience company has been raking huge amounts of profits from selling chemicals and patented genetically modified seeds. It is highly likely that the approval of Golden Rice would facilitate the entry of more GMOs, which in turn would prove beneficial to agrochemical TNCs.  Golden Rice, MASIPAG says, is but a ‘Trojan horse’ that will further strengthen corporate control over agriculture.

Studies have also shown that genetically modified organisms and its accompanying chemicals may prove hazardous to health and the environment. To date, there are no studies that will prove safety of Golden Rice to health and the environment.

“We find it distasteful that one of the richest man on the planet invests millions of dollars to a project whose use and efficacy is yet unproven. While in the communities, local and natural foods that are rich in Vitamin A such as malunggay (moringa), kamoteng dilaw (yellow sweet potato), kalabasa (squash), etc. are readily available and can be easily grown. Also, Vitamin A supplementation is very effective and supported by the government and is given free among the children” added Medina.

Dr. Medina added that studies have shown that most of the VAD-affected children hail from the impoverished sectors lacking the capacity to access for a balanced and healthy diet, including safe drinking water. VAD, and the problem on hunger in general, Medina states, is rooted in socio-economic inequalities.

“Poverty and lack of access to basic resources are the main cause of VAD and other malnutrition issues. We think that Golden Rice cannot address these.”

Boosting IRRI’s image

Bill Gates’ visit to IRRI has proven to be a much needed boost in its image, which has been declining in the past decades.

“We still have not forgotten the bitter lessons from the Green Revolution and the high-yielding rice varieties (HYVs) of IRRI that failed its promise of better production and better life for poor farmers,” said Diego Dela Cruz Jr., a farmer from Agusan del Sur. “The HYVs, along with its expensive inputs have put many farmers into further poverty and indebtedness.”

IRRI, which celebrated its 55th anniversary last April 4 has introduced the so-called modern varieties of rice that promised to have better yields and higher income for the farmers. By 1970s, the HYVs started declining and various pests and diseases have developed, significantly reducing rice production in the Philippines and other neighbouring countries. The massive spread of HYVs has also resulted to the loss of traditional rice varieties that are better adapted to the local environments. The intensive application of chemical inputs has resulted to soil degradation, and the monocropping practice of HYVs has affected the biodiversity in the farm.

“After its 55 years of existence, what has IRRI done to the Filipino farmers and the country’s rice productivity? The Philippines has even become the world’s number one net rice importer! The quality of life of poor farmers became worse,” lamented Dela Cruz.

Since then, IRRI has shifted its research focus to genetically modified rice (“Gene Revolution”) that is also proving to be problematic.

“Why insist on a potentially harmful technology if there are safer means to address VAD and malnutrition?” asked Dela Cruz.

We believe that Golden Rice is being promoted to clean up and sugar-coat the image of GMOs, which have been proved by many independent studies to be harmful to health and the environment. By touting the Golden Rice as a humanitarian project, it makes GMOs more acceptable among farmers, governments and consumer” added Medina.

Alternative Measures to Malnutrition

“Poverty and hunger are the main culprits in malnutrition cases, which include Vitamin A. Therefore to address VAD, we should address the lack of resources to ensure that people have access to proper nutrition,” said Dr. Medina.

“Farmers should have their own land to till, and sufficient appropriate technology and post-harvest support to ensure better productivity,”said Dela Cruz.

MASIPAG has been pushing for agroecology and sustainable agriculture (SA) to improve food security in the communities. SA entails diversification of the farms which should also provide more safe and nutritious food for the family and community. Along with several local governments, MASIPAG has also been working on strengthening local markets so that more consumers can avail affordable organic foods and support the local producers.

“Global and international studies such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have recognized agroecology and other farmer innovations as a means to address food security and rural development. We hope that Bill Gates and his foundation likewise recognize that providing safe and more contextually appropriate technologies will better serve the farmers and consumers of developing countries, rather than a potentially harmful technology such as Golden Rice.”###