Top RP restaurants join 'I love my rice GMO-free' campaign
By Alex Alikpala
abs-cbnNEWS (Philippines), 30 August 2008

Some of the top restaurants in the country have decided to "go green", and they've started by promising that the rice they serve will always be natural and free of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms).

The Bistro Group of Companies, in partnership with Greenpeace, launched the "GMO-free rice restaurants" campaign at Fish and Co. restaurant in Shangri-la Ortigas.

The project aims to get restaurants to serve only GMO-free rice.

Fish and Co. is part of the Bistro Group, which has committed its popular restaurants, including Italianni's, Outback, TGI Friday's and Flapjacks, to the campaign.

"It is our responsibility to make sure that we serve only naturally grown and safe rice," said Lisa Ronquillo, Bistro Group Marketing Director.

During the launch, dishes with GMO-free rice were served, representing the various restaurants of the Bistro Group.

"The Bistro Group recognizes the importance of protecting the country's rice supply from GMO contamination and is proud to be the first to sign onto such a project led by Greenpeace," she said.

“I love my rice GMO-free”

The project is part of the “I love my rice GMO-free” campaign of Greenpeace, which calls for keeping the Philippines’ rice supply free of genetic contamination.

Greenpeace plans to widen their campaign soon. They will target all kinds of restaurants, whether they are fast food chains or alternative restaurants.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic Engineering Campaigner Daniel Ocampo said the restaurant campaign has other objectives other than informing the public of the need to keep rice GMO-free.

“(The campaign) also serves to assure consumers that the rice they are eating is free from these risky organisms which pose serious threats to biodiversity, farmers' livelihoods and human health," he said.

The GMO threat

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including plants and animals, are those whose genetic material has been changed using genetic engineering techniques.

The DNA of these organisms is manipulated so as to cause the organism to acquire traits it did not naturally have.

For example, rice can be genetically modified to build its resistance to pests, increase its shelf life, or improve its nutritional value.

These sound like worthy objectives, but Greenpeace said that GMOs pose risks to health and the environment, as no long term studies on their effects have yet been conducted.

“The risks are known,” Ocampo said. He added that studies on animals have proven to be insufficient in proving that GMOs are safe for human consumption.

He warned that GMOS, although not commercially available in the Philippines, have entered the food chain particularly the food supply in the US because of contamination.

“This is one of the dangers of GMOs. They are living organisms and can easily escape test fields, field trials and enter the food chain without the knowledge of the developers”, Ocampo said.

While the risks remain, Greenpeace said they will fight against the entry of GMOs, particularly GMO rice, into the country.

“Our rice is being threatened by contamination, but we have so far successfully prevented any GMO rice from being approved in the Philippines through an injunction,” said Ocampo.

Help from the restaurant industry

Ocampo said that Greenpeace recognizes the potential role of the food industry in informing the public about the dangers of GMOs, and telling the government that they do not want GMO rice.

This is why they tied up with the Bistro Group, which wanted to start having environment-friendly practices.

“A month or so ago, we approached Greenpeace because we wanted to go green. As a company, we wanted to do our part in this global campaign which is going green, but we didn’t really know how to go about it,” Ronquillo said.

She said when they found out Greenpeace had a GMO-free rice campaign, they signed up immediately.

Aside from serving only GMO-free rice, the Bistro Group also intends to put up “I love my rice GMO-free” posters in their restaurants and put similar stickers on the menu. They will also distribute buttons and brochures on the issue.

Other initiatives

The “I love my rice GMO-free” campaign marks only the beginning of involvement in environmental issues for the Bistro Group.

They are taking a wider perspective in their desire to go green.

Ronquillo said they are looking into the paper materials they are using, rethinking their suppliers, as well as shifting to biodegradable packaging and bathroom materials. She said they are also looking into organic products they could use.

She admitted that people need to be educated on caring for the environment.

“Going green is a complicated issue, not many people would understand. In fact some guests would say, does that mean you are introducing more salads on your menu?”

The Bistro Group is set to hold different learning sessions both for their employees and their guests to increase awareness on environmental issues.

Ronquillo said they have given their long-term commitment to Greenpeace to work together for the ecological good.

She said that in the long run, they hope to inspire and influence their guests to be more earth-friendly not only when they are in their restaurants, but also in their personal lives.