November 7 – Farmers, consumers, church-based groups, scientists, educators and health advocates formally launched a national network that aims to protect peoples’ right to health and healthy environment and promote safer and better alternatives to genetically modified and chemical-based food and production systems. The Stop Golden Rice Network Philippines (SGRNP) is a broad coalition of 30 organizations and individuals from various sectors that have been united in the calls to immediately halt the planned commercial release of the Golden Rice in the country.
The group trooped to the Dept. of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to call for a moratorium on Golden Rice application for direct use and commercial release. The DA-BPI Director is tasked in the approval or denial of applications for the testing, introduction and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. If approved, Golden Rice, marketed by lead proponent the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) as ‘Healthier Rice,’ will find its way to the markets and tables of the ordinary Filipino consumers.
“We are alarmed that Golden Rice will be made available to children, pregnant women and other vulnerable sectors without being subjected to any long-term and credible studies to assure us of its safety,” said Melvin Palmero of SALINLAHI Alliance for Children’s Concerns, convening member of the SGRNP. “Golden Rice is fraught with many issues that the proponents and the relevant government agencies have yet to sufficiently address and resolve.”
Among these issues are the low beta-carotene content, low yield, insufficient data on safety and the recent findings that the beta-carotene in the Golden Rice degrades fast after harvesting and processing, such as cooking. Beta-carotene is the precursor to Vitamin A, which can only be absorbed by the body when consumed with fats and oils that are mostly found in meats and fish.
More risks than benefits
With the already dismal beta carotene amount in Golden Rice, recent studies from India show that the beta-carotene content also degrades fast after harvesting and processing has been done, such as cooking. The Indian government research shows that 84% of the beta-carotene can be lost from Golden Rice after six months, unless it has been vacuum-packed and refrigerated. High temperature and humidity greatly contributes to the beta-carotene degradation, and cooking the rice will cause the further loss of 25% of the beta-carotene.
According to experts, the beta-carotene degradation will also result to toxic compounds that can cause oxidative stress damage that can lead to cancer. Dr. David Schubert of Salk Institute for Biological Studies, USA and Dr. Michael Antoniou of King’s College London, UK states that the Golden Rice “poses a serious health risk to those who consume it.” Both scientists state that “there have never been short nor, more importantly, long-term safety testing in laboratory animals (of Golden Rice) and this must be done for several generations in rats to determine if it causes birth defects, which we consider a serious possibility.”
These risks, along with the ill-suited measures of preserving the already measly beta-carotene content are already proving that the Golden Rice disadvantages outweigh the purported benefits of curbing VAD. These are also the reason why farmers, consumers and civil society organizations continue to oppose Golden Rice, and amplify the calls to stop its commercial release.
Genuine solution to malnutrition
“VAD and other malnutrition problems are caused by hunger and poverty which is characteristic of the majority of the Filipino families,” said Cris Panerio, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “Children and mothers, especially those in the urban areas subsist on unhealthy diets of noodles, canned goods and other processed products because it is cheap and easily sourced.”
“Golden Rice is being used as a band-aid solution to cover up the much deeper social ills that can only be addressed when Filipinos have decent incomes and livelihoods, including lands to till for the farmers” said Joseph Canlas, Chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon or AMGL. Canlas and farmer participants are worried that Golden Rice might affect farmers’ livelihood due to increased corporate control in the country’s agriculture and food security.
Protesters has set-up a Christmas tree laden with vegetables and fruits high in beta carotene in front of the DA-BPI gates. “Our wish this coming Christmas is that the people will have adequate, safe, diverse and nutritious food for their families free from Golden Rice and other GM crops.” said Burly Mango, OIC Executive Director of the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes. “We do not need Golden Rice to solve VAD and malnutrition, it should be biodiversity not biofortification” said Virgie Nazareno, a farmer-leader from Gen. Nakar, Quezon.
In Bangladesh, news reports stated that Golden Rice might get government approval this coming November 15, 2019. Farmers and consumers in Bangladesh are also gearing up to protest against the planned commercialization of Golden Rice in their country. ###