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.###