The promotion of BB-rice and Vitamin A rice is only meant to make genetically-modified food acceptable to the public despite the health and environmental hazards they bring, according to militant farmers and other cause-oriented groups.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP - Peasant Movement in the Philippines) last week lambasted the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for claiming that their integrated pest management program has caused farmers to be less dependent on chemical pesticides.
KMP chair Rafael Mariano, himself a rice farmer from Nueva Ecija, said, "Central Luzon farmers suffered the worst damage caused by IRRI's Green Revolution in the 1970s."
According to the KMP, the high-yielding rice varieties introduced by the IRRI-sponsored Green Revolution in fact increased farmers' dependence on chemical pesticides. Scientific research has shown these rice varieties relied on expensive imported chemical pesticides.
KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos, a rice farmer from Bulacan, added that the IRRI's promotion of high-yielding rice varieties dependent on chemical pesticides increased the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. The KMP also opposes the ‘Gene Revolution’ being promoted by the IRRI ‘under the guise of pesticide use reduction and increase in yield’ as well as the use of IRRI-developed genetically-engineered rice varieties such as BB-rice and Vitamin A rice.
BB-rice and Vitamin A rice
BB-rice is a rice variant engineered with a gene called XA21 to be resistant to bacterial blight (Xanthomonas oryzae), a water-borne disease aggravated by the use of heavy nitrogen fertilizer. The gene is patented by the United States-based multinational corporation Monsanto, which has been receiving flak for its promotion of Bt corn in the Philippines.
According to Devlin Kuyek of the Genetic Resources Action International (Grain), bacterial blight worsened with the IRRI's introduction of high-yielding rice varieties, particularly IR 8, in the mid-1960s.
As early as 2000, BB-rice was criticized by scientists' groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) for being an inadequate solution to bacterial blight since the latter may develop resistance to BB-rice - a problem acknowledged by Dr. Pamela Ronald herself, who holds the patent to the gene with the University of California in Davis.
According to Ronald, "Eight existing bacterial blight isolates can overcome XA21. It is a likely possibility that if XA21 is overcome by the resistant bacterial blight strains, then an epidemic of unknown proportions can occur."
The BB-rice-resistant bacterial blight strains exist in the Philippines, Kuyek said.
In fact there have been reports from the local NGO community of cases where BB-rice was hit by bacterial blight.
Vitamin A rice, also known as golden rice, was first developed in Europe. It is designed purportedly to address the widespread vitamin A deficiency.
The IRRI's promotion of these rice varieties is opposed by KMP, the scientist-peasant network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), as well as by NGOs like Grain. They dispute the claims of the IRRI that such rice varieties are needed to address the problem of world hunger. They argue that the cause of widespread hunger is not the supposed low yield of food crops, but poverty - which BB-rice and vitamin A rice cannot address.
Masipag suggests alternatives to BB-rice: low use of nitrogen fertilizer, sufficient irrigation and drainage, seedbanking of blight-resistant plants, maintenance of crop diversity, appropriate transplanting, and proper disposal of infected plants.
The opponents of genetically-engineered rice also believe that the introduction of these rice varieties in the Philippines is meant only to make genetically-modified food acceptable to the public despite the health and environmental hazards they bring. On top of that, critics say, they amass huge profits and control the distribution of food not only in the Philippines but throughout the world as well.