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)