Government urged to focus on genuine solutions to rice crisis

September 25, 2019

by MASIPAG National Office

Farmers and consumers call for moratorium on Golden Rice project

Rice producers in the Philippines are already in peril because of the ongoing crisis of abysmally low farmgate prices of unmilled rice due to the Rice Tariffication Law. Now, with the impending commercial release of genetically modified Golden Rice, Filipino consumers’ health and safety will also be at risk with this untested rice.

Golden Rice, the rice genetically modified to supposedly combat Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) among children and mothers, are currently being harvested at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) headquarters in Munoz, Nueva Ecija. Based from the proponent’s timeline, Golden Rice will be made available for direct use for food, feed and processing even without undergoing rigorous testing for its safety among the consumers’ health and the environment.

Not the Healthier Option

Philrice, the leading project proponent of Golden Rice in the Philippines has been marketing the GMO as “Healthier Rice,” claiming that it will help solve VAD in the country. However, the amount of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to Vitamin A, is too negligible for Golden Rice to have a nutritional impact.

“With its measly beta-carotene content, there is nothing healthier about Golden Rice,” said Cris Panerio, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “In fact, because it remains untested, Golden Rice may even cause further health and environmental problems.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) acknowledges the low beta-carotene content in its communication to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on May 2018 stating that “the concentration of β-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.“

Meanwhile, a study from India shows that the already paltry amount of beta-carotene in Golden Rice easily degrades, or disappears once the rice has been harvested, stored and cooked. As much as 80% of the beta-carotene can disappear by the various processes, that the scientists recommend refrigerating or packing the Golden Rice in vacuum-seal just to preserve the beta-carotene content.

“Obviously, Golden Rice will be useless in curbing VAD,” added Panerio. “There are safer and better alternatives to Golden Rice such as our local kamote, malunggay, sayote and mangoes that have significantly higher beta-carotene.”

MASIPAG and other stakeholders assert that instead of promoting Golden Rice and the genetic biofortification of rice, maintaining biodiversity in the farms and in the tables should be promoted instead.

“VAD and other malnutrition problems can be mitigated and addressed by having a diverse diet that does need to be advanced technology, nor an expensive commodity. Golden Rice is an example of a technology that does not address the main issues and problems of the agriculture sector. Being owned and developed by private seed and agrochemical corporations, it will only serve as a tool to further control our food and agriculture.”

Protect the consumers and support the farmers

“We are extremely alarmed that Golden Rice will soon find its way to our markets when the circumstances around the field testing remain sketchy,” said Alfie Pulumbarit, Advocacy Officer of MASIPAG. “The Golden Rice field testing pushed through without the proponents satisfying the calls of the stakeholders for stricter testing and regulations.”

Since 2017, MASIPAG has been engaging the proponents and the Bureau of Plant Industry, the regulatory body tasked to look into the importation and introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. Demands from the stakeholders, including women’s and children’s groups and consumers networks seem to fall on deaf ears as the field testing mechanism fail to address the concerns on safety and efficacy, or the effectiveness of the Golden Rice. For instance, the field trials were only conducted in one cropping season, and in only two provinces, namely, Nueva Ecija and Isabela.

“Instead of promoting Golden Rice, Philrice should focus instead on supporting our local rice farmers who are already in deep danger from the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law and the liberalization of the rice industry.”#