Corporate control on agriculture, trade liberalization causes hunger and malnutrition to millions of children
On December 18, the Philippine Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry has declared Golden Rice to be ‘as safe as conventional rice’ and issued an approval for Direct Use for Food, Feed and Processing of Golden Rice project proponent Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Early this November, in an article in the Guardian, apologists are once again claiming that the opposition to the genetically modified rice and the precautionary principle espoused by the Cartagena Protocol “has cost millions of lives” as Golden Rice commercial release keeps getting delayed.
Golden Rice proponents and apologists, however, continue to turn a blind eye on the real problems that are causing VAD. Malnutrition and hunger are twin problems that can be rooted from widespread poverty and inequality in accessing resources vital to food security, which the Golden Rice can never resolve. People are simply too poor to access safe, nutritious and sufficient food. Even the farmers — the food producers themselves — are suffering from hunger. Government policies such as the rice liberalization, heavy promotion of chemical-based farming and massive land use conversion are driving the farmers into indebtedness and landlessness, and further worsening food insecurity even in the rural areas.
Rice liberalization and food security and nutrition
The article published in The Guardian stated clearly that Vitamin A Deficiency is practically unknown to the West. Not because Vitamin A-rich food can only be found in the West. The Philippines, as well as other Asian countries, have an adequate number of beta-carotene rich vegetable and fruits that are commonly-found and inexpensive. The difference lies in the capacity of the farmers and the ordinary consumers to access safe and sufficient food to ensure health and nutrition.
The Rice Tariffication Law has rendered the Philippines as among the biggest importer of rice, surpassing even China. By liberalizing the rice industry, farmers produce is in its all time low from the past eight years as cheap, highly subsidized rice are flooding the market and competes directly to locally grown rice. As decades of making farmers dependent on chemical inputs and privatized seeds such as GM crops, agrochemical companies are making a killing due to the steep price of their products, contributing to the high cost of producing rice.
With practically nowhere to go, subsistence farmers are selling their land in an attempt to survive perhaps for the next few months. Fertile lands are now being converted into other uses, mainly for industrial, commercial or plantation crops, worsening the problem on food security. Farmers in the Philippines and anywhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America are poorer and hungrier than ever.
Golden Rice, in fact, will make these social ills even worse by maintaining the illusion that nutrition can be obtained by eating rice alone, neglecting the importance of a diverse diet and conditioning the population to be content on subsisting on cheaper but unhealthy food high in calories but dearth of essential micronutrients and vitamins, protein and fat.
That Golden Rice may have saved millions of children from death or going blind is purely corporate propaganda. Data shows that beta-carotene content in Golden Rice is a dud, and faces failure when used in the context of its target beneficiaries in the developing countries.
The current version of the Golden Rice being tested and slated for commercial release contains negligible and inconsistent amount of beta carotene: from 3.57 ug/g to 22 ug/g. Even the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) acknowledges the low beta-carotene content stating that “the concentration of β-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.”
Already minimal, 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.
Filipino farmers do not seal or store the paddy rice in vacuum packs which will make the product more expensive. Electricity also remains scarce in remote farming communities so refrigerating the harvest is unrealistic bordering on the absurd.
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 further 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.”
Contamination may also happen, even during contained field tests, which has already happened several times. With the Philippines as one of the centers of rice diversity, GM rice contamination may affect the genetic diversity or thousands of rice varieties being taken care of by small scale farmers and indigenous peoples. 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.
This is also why nations all over the world came to unite under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, with precaution as a guiding principle to assess new technologies that may impact our food and agriculture, and our way of life.
If Golden Rice is essentially a failed and useless product, why then are the proponents and governments pushing for it? Time and again, huge agrochemical companies, philanthrocapitalists and pseudo-public agencies are doing everything in their power to take away the people’s right to participate in deciding for their food and agriculture. Already, zinc and iron GM rice and thirty other GM rice are in the pipeline, with the Golden Rice serving as the Trojan Horse to lull the people into social acceptance and false security.
More than resisting the release of Golden Rice however, MASIPAG and multitudes of farmer organizations across Asia are pushing for safer, better and healthier alternatives to addressing VAD and other malnutrition issues. VAD and other malnutrition problems can be mitigated and addressed by having a diverse diet that does need to be an expensive commodity, nor rely on advanced technology. MASIPAG believes that instead of promoting Golden Rice and the genetic biofortification of rice, the government should promote biodiversity in the farms and in the tables by supporting safe, healthy and sustainable food production. We are also calling on governments to pay attention to the needs of our food producers, including facilitating access to lands to till, appropriate technologies and an agriculture policy that will promote and uphold the people’s right to food.
And that is why we need to block and continue to resist Golden Rice.
- Beta-carotene degradation products – formation, toxicity and prevention of toxicity. Siems W, Salerno C, Crifò C, Sommerburg O, Wiswedel I. (2009) Forum Nutr. 61: 75-86.
- GRAIN, “Biofortified crops or biodiversity? The fight for genuine solutions to malnutrition is on” 2019. https://grain.org/e/6246
- Kinetics of β-carotene degradation under different storage conditions in transgenic Golden Rice® lines. Bollinedi, H., Dhakane-Lad, J., Krishnan, S.G., Bhowmick, P.K., Prabhu, K.V., Singh, N.K., and Singh, A.K. (2019). Food Chemistry 278, 773-779. https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814618320661
- The Global Pipeline of GM crops: an outlook for 2020. Claudia Parisi, Pascal Tillie, Emilio Rodriguez-Cerezo, European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Edificio Expo, C/Inca Garcilaso 3. 41092, Seville, Spain
- Philippines beats China as world’s biggest rice importer. Louise Maureen Simeon, The Philippine Star, November 11, 2019
- Average farm-gate price of rice falls to 8-year low – PSA. Jasper Arcalas, Business Mirror, October 11, 2019