"Proponents have failed to establish the safety of Golden Rice for human consumption despite two decades of work and billions invested"
EXCERPT: Zenaida Soriano, national chairperson of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women... [said:] "We have lots of natural sources of food rich in Vitamin A. We do not need Golden Rice.”
Stop Golden Rice! Network calls to halt GR experimentation and production in the Philippines
PAN Asia Pacific, November 13, 2020
One hundred and seventeen individuals and organisations, including PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), petitioned the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) to halt the experimentation and production of genetically modified Golden Rice (GR) in the Philippines. Golden Rice, which was approved for direct use in food, feed and processing late last year, would be the first staple crop to be commercialised in Asia.
“We reiterate the fact that the proponents have failed to establish the safety of Golden Rice for human consumption despite two decades of work and billions invested. On top of this, Golden Rice’s low concentration of beta-carotene, expected to ‘decline over time due to storage,’ which even IRRI admits, so much so that the US Food and Drug Administration stated that it cannot make a nutrient content claim,” the groups, led by the Stop Golden Rice! Network (SGRN) Philippines, stated in the petition letter to the DA, accompanied by a protest action in front of the agency last November 9.
Genetically modified to express beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, the Golden Rice is being touted by its proponents as a solution to the supposedly worsening cases of Vitamin A Deficiency. Golden Rice was field-tested in the Philippines in 2011 in five separate locations in Luzon, despite intense opposition from various farmers and consumers organisations. In 2013, more than 400 farmers, consumers, youth, and other sectors uprooted the clandestine field trial in Pili, Camarines Sur.
Applications for Golden Rice field trials and direct use for food, feed, and processing were filed by local proponent PhilRice at the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry last 2017 under the Joint Department Circular of 2016, a new policy on GM regulation. These applications were heavily contested by farmers, consumers, and sectoral organizations due to its dismal beta carotene content, decline of beta carotene content during storage, and low yield resulting from unintended effects due to the genetic modification.
However, the DA-BPI approved the GR field test, which lasted only one field testing in 2019. DA-BPI also approved the safety of the GM crop despite formal petitions to the DA. For almost a year, the DA made no substantial move regarding the people’s call to review the DA-BPI’s decision approving the direct use of Golden Rice. Golden Rice is owned by agrochemical giant Syngenta and is enjoying huge support thru funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Instead of promoting and helping our farmers through concrete steps such as the lifting of the anti-poor rice liberalization resulting to low farmgate prices, the Department of Agriculture chose to serve corporate interest by promoting Golden Rice. This, in itself, is a blatant violation of their mandate and a disservice to the Filipino people,” said Alfie Pulumbarit, secretariat of SGRN Philippines and Advocacy Officer of the Magsasaka at Siyentista Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG).
Zenaida Soriano, national chairperson of the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, shared her concerns as the public release of Golden Rice nears. “The product’s primary target are vulnerable members of the population, the pregnant or breastfeeding women and children. Will they be used as lab rats for the profit-making agenda by corporations? As far as we know, we have lots of natural sources of food rich in Vitamin A. We do not need Golden Rice.”
The 117 individuals and organisations told the Agriculture Secretary William Dar that there is no compelling reason to use Golden Rice. “The last thing our country needs in these critical times is the commercial release of a product that is ineffective and whose chronic effects have not been tested nor guaranteed safe, given rice is a staple food in the country,” the petition letter stated.
Meanwhile, Danilo Ramos of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) said that Vitamin A Deficiency is a preventable disease if the people have enough food to eat. “However, peasant communities are being robbed of their land and their livelihoods destroyed by rice liberalization law. Golden Rice is but a band-aid solution to these social ills,” the peasant leader said.
The Stop Golden Rice Network is a network of farmers, scientists, consumers, youth, church people, food right advocates, women and children groups, environmentalists, and other sectoral organisations campaigning for the people’s right to health and healthy environment, the protection and promotion of farmers rights to seeds, and food sovereignty that is being threatened by the introduction of genetically modified rice in Asia.