Category Archives: News & Updates

Tatay Francis, Environmental Hero

Francis Morales, or Tatay Francis as he is fondly called, has been recognized as one of the country’s environmental defenders by the award-giving body, Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (GBK). GBK honors the individuals and groups protecting and defending the environment and peoples’ rights.

“Tatay Francis bravely defended the rights of Typhoon survivors amid media slanting and attacks from government institutions, due to the Barug Katawhan’s organized confiscation of hoarded relief goods in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) regional office warehouse. Threatened by then Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman with criminal charges for defending how the “hungry and angry” survivors were justified in the assertion, Tatay Francis retorted with an intense but calm “see you in court”.

He became part of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) where he became their advocacy officer before being part of its Board of Trustees. Applying his wide knowledge in sustainable agriculture, he initiated a Resilient Agriculture Program that benefitted the communities affected by Typhoon Pablo and Yolanda.

Until his last breath, Tatay Francis was knee-deep in serving the people. He served as the rocj and foundation of the Daluyong Network of Disaster Survivors formed in 2014 in Tacloban City, and unprecedented gathering of typhoon survivors from all over the country.

Tatay Francis’ post-humous award was received by his wife Anita and daughter Raray, who are also development workers pushing for sustainable agriculture.#

 

Roundtable Discussion on Golden Rice


RESIST Agrochemical TNCs together with the All UP Academic Employees Union and NNARA – Youth UP Manila conducted a Round Table Discussion with civil society organizations regarding the imminent approval of Golden Rice application for direct use and open field testing. Present were different organizations working with peasants, farm workers, women farmers, youth, church groups, sustainable and organic agriculture practitioners and community health workers.

During the RTD the problems posed by the planned application to field test Golden Rice in Nueva Ecija and Isabela and feed testing of Golden Rice among target communities in the country were discussed. Among the participants, initials plans of actions have also been explored to further strengthen the campaign against the genetically modified rice. #

Job Opportunity: Bookkeeper

MASIPAG regional office in the Visayas is looking for a motivated individual who will be responsible of ensuring complete and accurate documentation and reporting of the use and up-to-date condition of all financial and non-financial resources of MASIPAG Regional Office in the Visayas.

Duties and Responsibilities:
1. Performs documentation, bookkeeping and accounting of the region’s financial and non-financial resources.
2. Ensures compliance to minimum mandatory and statutory requirements of regulatory agencies;
3. Monitors efficiency in utilization and management of the region’s material resources;
4. Monitors efficiency in utilization and management of MASIPAG income generating facilities in the region;
5. Comply with the regional secretariat reporting and documentation and
6. Perform other tasks as may be delegated by immediate supervisor.

MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS:
1. With background in basic bookkeeping and accounting
2. With passion or interest in working with farmers sector
3. With good moral character in his/her school, or community or previous employment
4. Computer-literate
5. Willing to be trained
6. Interested fresh graduates may apply

Interested applicants may submit their application letter and resume to:
The Regional Coordinator
MASIPAG Visayas
Email: masvis@masipag.org

Civil society decry FSANZ approval of Golden Rice

Network calls for global solidarity against commercialization in Bangladesh and Philippines

Laguna, Philippines – The recent release of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) approval report of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) application for a Golden Rice ‘safety stamp’ and trade liability clearance has garnered negative reactions and widespread critique.

Testbiotech, a non-profit organization founded as an Institute for the Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology in 2008 in Munich, Germany concluded that the “application does not show substantial benefits. Furthermore, the risk assessment as performed by FZANZ is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from GR2 (Golden Rice 2).” Aside from expounding on the questions of nutritional viability and genetic stability of Golden Rice, Testbiotech also criticized lack of toxicological studies, exclaiming that “…it is self evident that food products with no history of safe use must be subjected to highest standards of risk assessment before the most vulnerable groups of the population are exposed to it…”

Civil society in Australia and New Zealand also challenged the soundness of FSANZ decision and appealed to review its approval. In an open letter, MADGE, GeneEthics and Food Sovereignty Alliance asked the Minister of Food Regulation forum to review FSANZ approval of Golden Rice. It stated that “FSANZ is failing its legislated objective to uphold public health and safety, providing adequate information to consumers and to prevent misleading and deceptive conduct.” It also pointed out that FSANZ carries no actual safety evaluation and its safety assumption were biased on data provided by IRRI and corporate proponents while ignoring crucial scientific data on the perils of GMOs to human health.

Launched last 2000, Golden Rice (GR) is a genetically engineered rice with the capability to produce beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A and touted to address malnutrition and Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). Billions of dollars have been poured into its research and development by mega-transnational corporations including Syngenta (now ChemChina) and the Rockefeller Foundation who are also major IRRI financers. Belinda and Melinda Gates Foundation extended $10M to IRRI to develop Golden Rice in Bangladesh and the Philippines last 2011.

Pro-lobbyist for FSANZ approval included Syngenta, Bayer-Monsanto and Dupont who are corporations raking billions of profit from manufacturing toxic pesticides and herbicides. Amongst these are Paraquat and Glyphosate which are considered highly hazardous and banned in some European and Asian countries.

Golden Rice commercialization railroaded in Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi and Philippine governments have both pronounced its favorable stand to GM Golden Rice commercialization despite historic public opposition, lack of conclusive safety studies, safeguard and accountability mechanism. In a recent article, Donald J. MacKenzie of IRRI applauded the approval of Bangladesh government for Golden Rice release this 2018 following clearance from FSANZ. He also informed the public that review is underway from US Food and Drug Administration.

In the Philippines, farmers and women’s groups are closely monitoring IRRI’s applications to FSANZ, Health Canada and US FDA. Unfortunately, a policy loophole in the country indicates that once circulated in foreign states and approved by international bodies – the application for direct use is good as approved despite national opposition. This will serve as a blanket green light for direct use including launching of clinical feeding trials among Filipino children.

Golden Rice, marred by conflict and controversy

Since its inception, Golden Rice has been marred by conflict and controversy. Civil society in Asia and GMO watch groups have been wary of Golden Rice as rice is not just the staple food for one third of the world’s population, it is also a political crop.

MASIPAG, a farmer-scientist network in the Philippines have long emphasized the detrimental impact of Golden Rice and submitted public comments and petitions to IRRI and FSANZ. MASIPAG stated that “the looming Golden Rice commercialization anchored on neoliberal market will flood the region with massive and unregulated trade of GM rice. This spells doom to our country where the quantitative restriction on rice importation will soon be lifted. Golden rice is a death reaper to our local rice sector as traditional rice varieties will be vulnerable to GMO contamination.” MASIPAG recently issued a statement for calling FSANZ to revoke its safety approval.

A research finding in January 2017 reveal that Golden Rice hybrid with Swarna variety resulted to phenotyphic abnormalities, stunted growth and low yield, virtually adulterating the metabolic and genetic traits of the variety . Testbiotech pointed out this study and the unintended effects of Golden Rice which “show genetic instability if they are crossed with other varieties; these were not discussed by FSANZ even though they are also relevant for food safety”.

Decades of civil society opposition to Golden Rice continues

Two decades of global civil society opposition impeded its planned commercialization in Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia. This prompted proponents to start the Allow Golden Rice tour in 2014 which was confronted by a broader Asia Farmers Network Against Golden Rice which held a conference, protest and press conference in the Philippines. It condemned the hypocrisy and logically fallacious claim that Golden Rice opposition is a crime against humanity while turning a blind eye to the ecological havoc and thousands of farmers driven landlessness and suicide as a result of past decades of GMO commercialization of GM Soya in Argentina, BT Cotton in India and GM Corn in The Philippines.

The network of 30 Asian countries reconvened as Stop Golden Rice! Network (SGRN) last 2017 to resound opposition to the renewed application for direct use and field testing in the Philippines and impending release in Bangladesh last 2017. It warns that FSANZ approval will serve as precursor to release of GM rice in Asia and ensue the promotion of bio fortified GM crops. This January, US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) officially approved GM Huahui rice in China, stirring alarm as majority of the Chinese are wary of the health and ecological risks of GMO commercialization .

Virgie Nazareno, an organic farmer community leader and South East Asia secretary general of Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers Organization (INOFO) echoes strong condemnation. “FSANZ approval reveals its bias to corporate powers and lack of genuine regulation. Malnutrition is scouring the rural poor precisely because of the greed and twisted thinking and technology of the corporations behind GMOs. There is a deficiency of justice not only Vitamin A. Land, farmers and food systems must be liberated from the control of corporate greed, GMOs and toxic products to combat malnutrition, hunger and poverty,” said Nazareno. She reiterated that Golden Rice is unnecessary. Instead, farmers right to land, seed freedom and practices of sustainable and ecological agriculture must be supported to ensure safe, nutritious food and a thriving healthy ecology for all.#

 
Stop Golden Rice! Network (SGRN) is a regional campaign collaboration of more than 30 organizations in South Asia and South East Asia. It works against the commercialization of Golden Rice and other forms of genetically modified crops, towards a society with equity, food sovereignty, sustainable and ecology-based agriculture. This is joint statement of its lead convening organizations and networks.

 

Golden Rice: No substantial benefit, safety studies not sufficient

Los Baños, Laguna – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG’s call to revoke the application to field and feed test Golden Rice is validated after Testbiotech made an analysis on risk assessment made by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) on Golden Rice. In its critique, Testbiotech concluded that the “application does not show substantial benefits. Furthermore, the risk assessment as performed by FZANZ is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from GR2 (Golden Rice 2).”

Golden Rice is genetically modified to force the rice plant to produce beta carotene in its grains. Golden Rice is hailed as a solution to help curb Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. In a dialogue with Philrice this January 2018, the institute said that application for Direct Use and Field Testing is now lodged at the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI). The said application awaits approval from the DA-BPI for it to commence.

Testbiotech: Golden Rice no substantial benefit, safety studies not sufficient

According to the Testbiotech report, the nutritional quality of Golden Rice produced a much smaller amount of carotenoids (3.5 – 10.9 micrograms per gram or ug/g) compared to the original Golden Rice event, which was supposed to produce more than 30 ug/g. “Further, while previous publications identified beta-carotene as having a percentage of around 80 percent of the total carotenoids, the rice in the field trials only reached 59 percent” the report said.

Testbiotech also stated that further significant reduction in the content of carotenoids has to be expected due to storage, processing and heating of the grains in food preparation.

“To consume the same amount of beta-carotene as in a carrot, one would need to eat 1.6 kg of uncooked rice, roughly 4 kg of cooked rice,” said Madeliene Love, an independent researcher from Victoria, Australia. “With the degradation of carotenoids, one would need to eat 13kg of uncooked rice, or roughly 32kg of cooked rice after 75 days.”

According to Ms Love, the degradation half-life as reported by Schaub 2017, would mean the concentration of beta-carotene after 25 days would be 1.79 ug/g, after 50 days would be 0.89 ug/g and after 75 days 0.45 ug/g dry weight. The abovementioned estimated of amount of rice to be consumed is adjusted for 12.2% to bring the cited 3.57 ug/g dry weight concentration to a fresh weight value, and then allowing for 150% water absorption during cooking. Ms Love has also petitioned the Australian Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to immediately review the report made by FSANZ.

Testbiotech also stated the Golden Rice is showing genetic instability resulting from crossing to different rice varieties. According to Testbiotech, the expression of transgenes are impacted by varietal background and is dependent on interactions with the environment.

“As what we have said early on, Golden Rice is fraught with inherent problems. One of which is the low yield resulting to the disruption of the native structure of the rice plant” said Cristino Panerio, National Coordinator of farmer-scientist group MASIPAG. Panerio is referring to the recent study made by scientists from India showing that the derived lines of Golden Rice produced abnormality and poor yield performance making it unfit for commercial cultivation.

Farmers are worried that the trait can transfer to other rice varieties or weedy relatives thru cross-contamination once the open field testing is approved. “This will contaminate our indigenous and farmer-bred rice varieties and prove disastrous to the already volatile rice production in the country” added Marcelino dela Rosa, MASIPAG farmer-breeder and rice farmer based in Nueva Ecija.

Golden Rice, another Dengvaxia fiasco

In its report, Testbiotech stressed the necessity of subjecting Golden Rice to the highest standards of risk assessment before the most vulnerable groups of the population are exposed to it. “However, no toxicological studies were performed with the rice. In the light of the humanitarian claims made in the context of GR2, it is surprising that this application is not based on a full set of data to establish high safety standards” added Testbiotech.

“The government should learn its lesson from the recent Dengvaxia fiasco. The Dengvaxia scandal exposed the inadequacy of government regulation on health, which has put the lives of more than 800,000 school-age Filipino children at risk. As with Golden Rice, it is the vulnerable population, the children aged 1-5 years old and lactating and pregnant women will be the target population,” said Panerio.

Apart from application to field test Golden Rice, Philrice has also applied to feed test Golden Rice to ascertain its efficacy. Details of the said feeding trials are yet to be disclosed, but most probably this will include pre-school children and mothers according to Panerio.

MASIPAG also criticized the move made by IRRI to get approvals from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US. “They are getting approvals from countries that are favourable to genetically modified crops, to make it appear that Golden Rice is being accepted in developed countries. They will use the results, such as the one made by FSANZ, to lobby the Philippine government to accept the said GM rice” said Panerio. Recently, MADGE Australia published an open letter addressed to the Minister of Food Regulation Forum to review the FSANZ approval of Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is a patented rice variety owned by agrochemical giant Syngenta, which last year merged with China based company ChemChina. Critics say that Golden Rice is a Trojan horse, which will open the rice industry for more genetically modified rice. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a new GM rice, named Huahui No.1, paving the way for Chinese GMO product to flood the international market. Huahui No.1 is genetically modified rice inserted with genes coming from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria, giving the rice its own toxin to kill rice pests such as stem borers.###

References:

· Testbiotech comment on data for risk assessment of Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E submitted to Food Standards Australia New Zealand by IRRI – https://www.testbiotech.org/node/2150

· Testbiotech is a non-profit organization founded as an Institute for the Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology in 2008 in Munich, Germany. Testbiotech provides information and scientific expertise on the risks associated with genetic engineering, that is completely independent of the biotech industry. In this way, the organization hopes that their efforts can help strengthen the decision-making competence of politicians and society.

· Ms Love arrived at an estimate of 1.6 kg of uncooked rice by computing the amount of beta carotene from carrots and correlated it with the beta carotene produced by Golden Rice. The US National Nutrient Database has the concentration of beta-carotene in carrots at 82.85 ug/g. For a medium carrot weighing 62 grams, this medium carrot would thus have 62g * 82.85 ug/g = 5134 ug of beta-carotene. Thus, (5134 /3.57 ug/g)*1.122 = 1.6 kg of uncooked rice and (5134/0.45)*1.122 = 13kg of uncooked rice.

· An Open Letter on GM golden rice in Australia – http://madge.org.au/open-letter-gm-golden-rice-australia

· Molecular and Functional Characterization of GR2-R1 Event Based Backcross Derived Lines of Golden Rice in the Genetic Background of a Mega Rice Variety Swarna – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169600