No to ‘Golden Rice’

April 23rd, 2014 by

DAVAO CITY — Organic food advocates in Mindanao are asking the Department of Agriculture (DA) to stop the production and commercialization of genetically modified ‘Golden Rice’ citing alleged dangers it poses to health and environment amid lack of proper bio-safety regulating mechanisms in the country.

The beta carotene-containing Golden Rice, which is being eyed as a global dietary solution for people who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, is undergoing field testing at the department’s regional field unit in Pili, Camarines Sur as well as in the provinces of Isabela, Ilocos Norte and Nueva Ecija.

“Golden Rice is touted to address Vitamin A deficiency, but is this what we really need considering our main problem is landlessness?” Fr. Joy B. Pelino, Go Organic Mindanao coordinator of the Social Action Center Diocese of Marbel in South Cotabato, said in an interview.

Go Organic Mindanao, which is composed of different organizations, conducted a forum on Golden Rice at the Ateneo de Davao University on Tuesday, April 22, in celebration of the International Earth Day and for the purpose of gathering commitments from various sectors to oppose the commercialization of Golden Rice.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has continued with the testing of the Golden Rice despite an improvement in the number of Vitamin A-deficient children aged six months to five years in the country, which according to the 2008 Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s 7th National Nutrition Survey went down from 40% in 2003 to 15.2% in 2008.

Vitamin A deficiency is said to be the leading cause of preventable blindness and child mortality in developing countries like the Philippines. IRRI said Vitamin A deficiency affects more than 1.7 million children in the country.

Sr. Nelda L. Balaba of the Social Action Center-Marbel, however, said there are other ways to resolve the issue on Vitamin A deficiency including the promotion of organically produced vegetables that naturally contain beta-carotene. She said the Department of Agriculture is planning to download Golden Rice to farmers and the farmers are not even aware of this, or the effects of producing this genetically modified rice.

Diego D. dela Cruz, Jr. of nongovernmental group Masipag Mindanao claimed the farmers are being tricked into using the fast-growing Golden Rice for free this time but when they become used to the yield, control of this variety will already be in the hands of multinational companies which will sell the seeds at expensive prices.

Dagohoy P. Magaway, a member of the Go Organic Davao City and president of the Mamamayang Ayaw sa Aerial Spray warned of the significant risk of the Golden Rice genetically modified gene contaminating the native organic rice varieties once it is commercialized. There are at least 50 varieties of native Philippine rice varieties being grown organically all over Mindanao and are marketed as heirloom rice.

“Consumers should all stand up and reject genetically modified agricultural products and pesticide-intensive agriculture in favor of organic farming which is more sustainable,” Mr. Pelino said. The Go Organic Mindanao is asking the DA to support Republic Act 10068, also known as “The Philippine Organic Agriculture Act”, by developing and protecting organic agriculture and preventing the entry of genetically engineered crops in Philippine agriculture.

Laxity of bio-safety laws was scored by lawyer Lee M. Aruelo, researcher of Third World Network, a nongovernmental organization engaged in environment and development issues. She said if it pushes through, Golden Rice will be the first genetically modified crop ever that will be commercialized for consumption.

“This will have far-reaching effects since rice is a staple food,” she said. But more than its effect on health and the environment, she said the commercialization of Golden Rice and the resulting contamination of organic rice will result in an income loss of almost 100% for farmers.

Ms. Aruelo said organic products including rice are fetching higher prices both in the domestic and international markets. But once the indigenous organic varieties are contaminated genetically by Golden Rice, the farmers will no longer be able to sell it as organic rice but only as conventional rice with a lesser price tag.

Rice and other products require certification before it can be marketed as organic. Once contaminated, organic rice from the Philippines will no longer be certified as organic and thus, our farmers will have difficulty exporting their rice to the world market, she said.

Ms. Aruelo said advocates can still put a stop on the proliferation of Golden Rice because there is still a long way to go before it can be approved for commercialization. While field tests are already being conducted, she said there are only five field tests all being conducted in Luzon, which has different climate compared with Visayas and Mindanao.

Thus, she added, it could not be ascertained if such rice will be as productive or will have the same Vitamin A content when grown in the other parts of the country. Section 8 of DA Administration Order No. 8 Series of 2002 does not, however, require a specific number of field test sites provided that it shall be evaluated by the Bureau of Plant Industry.  ( Lovely Carillo, BUSINESSWORLD)