Announcement made by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on December 18 that the Philippines has approved the direct use of the genetically modified-provitamin A rice, Golden Rice as food and feed, or for processing comes as a blow to the millions of rice farmers and consumers not just in the Philippines but also among other countries in Asia where rice is the major staple food.
Despite Golden Rice’s lack of credible safety testing, the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) issued the biosafety permit and claimed that Golden Rice is “as safe as conventional rice”. The Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice), the leading project proponent of Golden Rice in the country has also been marketing this GMO-rice as “Healthier Rice,” to highlight its beta-carotene advantage despite the amount of beta-carotene level in the rice being too negligible to even have a nutritional impact, or even warrant a nutrient content claim according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
The Philippines has managed to slash their Vitamin D deficiency (VAD) levels among vulnerable sectors with conventional nutrition programmes. The country experienced significant decrease more than half of VAD cases from 40.1% in 2003 to 15.2% in 2008, due to various interventions. IRRI also recognized this success but still harp on the slight increase of VAD over the next five years to justify the Golden Rice approval.
“The risks of Golden Rice far outweigh its supposed benefits,” said Dr. Chito Medina, member scientist of MASIPAG in the Philippines. “We will be better off improving and diversifying the food crops in the farms and diets of our children to ensure that proper nutrition is achieved.”
As a coalition of more than 30 organizations across Asia where most of the world’s rice is produced and consumed, we experience first-hand the damaging public health impacts caused by promoting a single-crop diet. The Green Revolution launched in the 1960s pushed new, potentially high-yielding forms of rice on Asian farmers as a way to increase food production. As a result, white rice has come to dominate the once-diverse Asian diets—with dramatic health consequences. Today, 60 per cent of all people suffering from diabetes are in Asia, 90 per cent of whom suffer type 2 diabetes, the preventable form of the disease. Scientists from Malaysia’s Endocrine and Metabolic Society claim that the soaring obesity in the country is due not to Western junk food, but to white rice.
Unhealthy diets will worsen as long as the corporations continue to exert their influence over agricultural research and production and profit from it.
We, Stop Golden Rice Network, calls for the Philippines authoritative bodies, Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry, PhilRice and IRRI to protect and uphold the safety of the people not just in the Philippines but also in other target countries and halt the commercial propagation Golden Rice. Malnutrition cannot be isolated from poverty and inequality, biofortification crops like Golden Rice doesn’t address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition, it risks blindly reinforcing it. #
Kartini Samon, GRAIN Senior Researcher
Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG Scientist Member