DAVAO CITY—Mindanao organic farmers are calling for a stop to the proposed commercialization of genetically modified golden rice in the country as they celebrated Earth Day on Tuesday, saying its undetermined risks to health far outweigh its promised benefits.
“The golden rice is a major threat not only to the livelihood of organic farmers but also to the health of millions of Asian consumers who depend upon rice as their staple,” said Geonathan Barro, advocacy officer of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag)-Mindanao, a network of over 36,000 farmers and scientists nationwide.
“It really puts the health of people at risk,” he said in a forum on Tuesday.
Thousands of farmers in Mindanao signed a petition opposing the proposed commercialization of genetically modified rice during an international Earth Day forum here on Tuesday, said Ann Fuertes, executive director of the environment group Interface for Development Intervention.
Fuertes said they were going to submit the petition to the Department of Agriculture office soon.
If commercialization pushes through, golden rice would first be tested on Filipinos, “making us the world’s virtual guinea pig for the genetically modified golden rice,” Barro said.
Barro said even the argument for golden rice could not stand on its own.
Propagating genetically modified rice as an answer to Vitamin A deficiency is totally impractical and unnecessary because farmers and children can get Vitamin A everywhere, just by growing yellow and green and leafy vegetables in their backyard. He showed studies indicating how the betacarotene content of the genetically modified rice is much lower compared to the betacarotene content of vegetables like carrots, malunggay and squash.
“There are so many sources of betacarotene around us that are for free,” he said.
But instead of promoting vegetable planting in schools, big agrocompanies are promoting genetically modified rice, he said.
“But why? They’re the same companies engaged in big seed business,” he said. He also cited studies showing how betacarotene content declines by 50 percent after cooking.
Barro said there has been no consensus among scientists worldwide that genetically modified rice has been proven safe. “At least, 300 scientists around the world agree that GMOs have not yet been proven to be safe,” Barro said.
Farmers in Pili, Camarines Sur, uprooted the golden rice in its field testing site in August last year, in the same way that farmers also uprooted Bt Corn in the field testing site in Tampakan, South Cotabato, in 2001 and the Bt Talong in the UP Mindanao field testing site in Davao City in 2011.
Lawyer Lee Aruelo, associate of the Third World Network, said the process to commercialize the golden rice would take a lot longer, since the law requires the proponents to conduct a series of tests to prove that they are safe for humans.
Dagohoy Magaway, a member of Go Organic Davao City, said commercialization would mean they would be planted in the country, which means there would be a very high risk that genes of the genetically modified rice would cross over the indigenous varieties diligently grown by organic farmers.
“This will destroy the purity of organic rice varieties,” Magaway said during the forum intended to educate the public and generate public outcry against golden rice. (Germelina Lacorte, INQUIRER MINDANAO)
AFTER a court banned the field trials for the genetically modified eggplants in the country, environmental advocates are now calling the Department of Agriculture (DA) to halt the production and commercialization of the genetically modified crop “Golden Rice”.
The golden rice is a new type of rice that contains beta-carotene, a source of vitamin A. It is a variety of Oryza sativa rice that is being developed through genetic engineering to biosynthesize beta-carotene as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A – which has been a serious health problem globally.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 250 million children suffer from vitamin deficiency. It also said that around 250,000 to 500,000 children go blind every year due to malnutrition with half of them dying within a year after being blind.
Reports said the golden rice is now undergoing multi-location field trials in different sites in Luzon. It needs to pass several tests before it will be commercialized. However, a lot of people are not convinced on genetically modified crop.
Go Organic Mindanao (GOM) coordinator of the Social Action Center Diocese (SACD) of Marbel, Fr. Joy B. Pelino, in a media briefing on Anti Go Mindanao Organic (GMO) Rice at Hue Cafe – Ateneo Business Center on Tuesday, said there is no proof that the golden rice is really good for the health.
“There’s no sufficient data in terms of its safety. In fact, independent studies revealed that there are possible negative effects from the rice on human health. This will also contaminate the natural diversity of island’s native rice varieties,” Pelino said.
Mamamayang Ayaw sa Aerial Spray president and Go Organic Davao City (GoDC) member Dagohoy Magaway also said that if the golden rice will be introduced into the markets, there is a significant risk of the genetically modified gene crossing over to the indigenous varieties, destroying the purity of the organic rice farms.
Diego dela Cruz Jr. from the Masipag Mindanao said aside from the risk of the genetically modified crop, the farmers will also face problem on companies of the modified crop taking control of agriculture at the expense of poor farmers.
Sr. Nelda L. Balaba, of the SAC-Marbel, added that they believe that there are other ways to resolve the issue on vitamin A deficiency. She added that there are a lot of organically farmed vegetables that naturally contain beta-carotene.
“Marami pa namang pagkain that contains vitamin A. Hindi naman necessary ang golden rice just to solve the issue on vitamin A deficiency. So our position is to stop the field testing, production and commercialization of the rice,” Balaba said.
The groups claimed that eating genetically modified organic product could cause new allergies in people.
The fact that the crop has not been tested on human, Geonathan Barro, advocacy officer for Masipag Mindanao, added.
At least 50 varieties of the native Philippine rice are grown throughout Mindanao, using indigenous organic farming techniques. These are often marketed as heirloom rice and command high prices in organic markets.
In line with the celebration of the Earth Day, the environmental advocates also called on the Mindanawons to reject genetically modified crops like Golden Rice.
They are also asking the DA to support organic farming, instead, as provided for by the National Organic Agriculture Act of 2010.
“If we consumers will all stand up and reject pesticide-intensive and GMOs’ dependent agriculture in favor of organic farming, we could put our island, and our country-on the path to a sustainable future and ensure a healthier future for everyone,” Pelino said.
The advocates also urged the DA to uphold the integrity of Republic Act 10068, or The Philippine Organic Agriculture Act, which seeks to develop and protect the organic agriculture nationwide by stopping the entry of genetically modified organisms into Philippine agriculture.
Third World Network associate and GOM member Atty. Lee Aruelo said that similar actions have been initiated across the country. He added that this is to show to government that there is a significant opposition to the GMOs and Golden Rice.
“In the interest of our farmers and food security, genetically modified organics should be banned from being introduced into our country’s farmlands,” Aruelo said. ( Ivy Tejano, SUNSTAR DAVAO)
DAVAO CITY—Euphoric over the Court of Appeals (CA) ruling against the field testing of genetically modified Bt eggplants, organic farming advocates are calling for a ban on a genetically modified breed of rice known as Golden Rice.
Golden Rice contains beta carotene as a source of Vitamin A and is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Alfie Pulumbarit, advocacy officer of the nongovernment Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) based in Los Baños, Laguna, said the IRRI is “done testing the Golden Rice in five sites and is moving on to the efficacy tests, meaning on humans, but without testing it first on animals or conducting toxicity tests to make sure it’s safe.”
“Is there really a need for alternate sources of Vitamin A other than what nature provided us?” said Ann Fuertes, executive director of the Interface for Development Intervention.
Proponents touted the Golden Rice as the “answer” to Vitamin A deficiency among children but Fuertes said a steady consumption of fresh vegetables is effective as well.
“A daily diet of green and yellow vegetables and fruits, including sweet potato, is enough to ensure that our bodies get the right amount of Vitamin A,” she said.
The Philippine National Nutrition Council reported that the number of children suffering from Vitamin A deficiency has declined from 38 percent in 1998 to only 15.2 percent in 2008, Masipag said.
Organic farming advocates expressed concern that Golden Rice may just be a “Trojan horse,” paving the way for the entry of other genetically modified crops in the country.
Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, said the absence of sufficient tests should be a grave concern.
Fuertes said the country should adopt a national policy to prevent the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“Now that the government has the National Organic Agriculture Act, it makes sense to have a more encompassing national policy to ban GMOs nationwide,” Fuertes said.
“The principles of organic farming and genetically modified organisms are incompatible,” Fuertes added.
“Many countries have in fact already declared a moratorium on GMOs. It’s about time that the Philippines follows suit,” she said.
The Inquirer on Monday tried to seek comment from Dr. Desiree Hautea, one of the lead scientist-proponents of Bt eggplants, but she was unavailable for an interview.
Aside from Bt eggplants, Masipag also opposes the testing of other genetically modified crops, such as corn, abaca, cassava and papaya, which are separately being conducted by government and private agencies. (Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon)