Farmers and consumers oppose golden rice

March 6, 2015

Farmers protest against Golden Rice.

Farmers protest against Golden Rice. Image from AMGL

Quezon City – “It is very possible that the country can eliminate Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), malnutrition and hunger by focusing on comprehensive approaches in attaining food security. The Philippines is endowed  with bountiful natural resources capable of sustaining each and everyone of nutritious and sufficient food. However, the small farmers and other poor people do not have the control over these resources, making Golden Rice a very appealing but palliative solution of big corporations to the starving Filipinos,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Chairperson and RESIST Agrochem TNCs! Convenor Rafael ‘Ka Paeng’ Mariano in response to the campaign by the Allow Golden Rice Now!, a foreign group based in Canada pushing for the immediate adoption of Golden Rice.

The ‘Allow Golden Rice Now!’ group led by Dr. Partick Moore, aims to convince government officials and the Filipino people to accept Golden Rice as means to solve Vitamin A deficiency or VAD. Golden Rice is genetically modified rice with a gene from the maize plant and a soil bacterium (Erwinia uredovora) which forces the rice plant to artificially express beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. Moore, in their website claimed that the Golden Rice will solve the Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) problem which is prevalent among women and children especially in the developing countries, the Philippines being one of them. Dr. Moore and company are in the Philippines to actively campaign and lobby for the adoption of the genetically modified ‘Golden Rice’. Supporters argue that Golden Rice is a cheaper solution in addressing VAD, as Vitamin A comes free and on a daily basis.

However, farmer groups don’t see this as a sustainable and safe solution in addressing VAD and malnutrition. Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of farmer-scientist group MASIPAG said that to eradicate VAD and malnutrition, we should first address the issues that are creating these problems. “Farmers play a central role  in achieving food security; only if the resources necessary for food production are in their control. These include control over land, water, seeds and appropriate technologies. Policies supporting activities that destroy the land and trample on farmers rights such as landgrabbing, plantations, mining, monoculture practices, GM crops, chemical and capital-intensive agriculture will only make matters worse. The International Assessment of Agricutlural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) stated that if we are to feed the world for the next 50 years, a radical change is needed in agriculture policy and practice wherein business as usual is no longer an option. Today there is a growing trend of Filipino farmers who are practicing sustainable and diversified agriculture,” said Dr. Medina.

Dr. Medina warned that “Golden Rice will not solve vitamin A deficiency (VAD) but would only strengthen the status quo, benefiting only the biotech industry and interested in controlling agriculture and food.” Syngenta, while claiming that the Golden Rice will be made royalty-free for farmers earning ten thousand dollars or less a year, has not yet relinquished their more than 70 patents to the Golden Rice technology.

Dr. Gene Nisperos, medical doctor and Vice Chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) also shares the same arguments against Golden Rice. “The opposition to Golden Rice is not just because it is a GMO, even though that is one reason. From the viewpoint of health, our opposition stems mainly from the fact that Golden Rice is a high-tech solution to a problem with technology-appropriate and culturally-sensitive (and sensible) solutions. It is a corporate biomedical approach to a problem that has largely social and economic underpinnings. The problem with these so-called ‘experts’ is their myopia, owing to their isolation from real people as they approach the problem from their respective ivory towers. There is a crime against humanity being committed and it is the lies that these experts are peddling,” said Dr. Nisperos.

Dr. Romy Quijano, an expert in the field of toxicology cautioned the public on the dangers of Golden Rice to health. “Unpredictable toxic by-products can be created and over-expression can also increase the potential toxicity of Vitamin A in the form of transgenically expressed retinoic acid and can also exacerbate unintended metabolic effects as well as instability. Golden Rice proponents are subjecting millions of Filipinos to an unsafe and unproven technology” warned Dr. Quijano.

Cheap and viable sources of Vitamin A are widely available, making Golden Rice unnecessary said Estrella Catarata, Executive Director of the Philippines Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP). As a mother, Catarata said that there are lots of natural food sources with beta carotene, with some containing more beta carotene than Golden Rice. “We have lots of native vegetables such as water cabbage (kangkong), taro leaves (gabi), Indian spinach (alugbati) and squash (kalabasa) that have similar levels of Vitamin A with that of golden rice(GR); drumstick leaves (malunggay) double that of GR; edible jute and carrots triple level of Vitamin A of GR; orange sweet potato tuber (dilaw na kamote) contains 5 times vitamin A compared to GR. Natural sources of vitamin A are abundant and there is nothing new about Golden Rice other than the method of genetic modification.”

According to Mariano, progressive partylist Anakpawis will refile two separate bills to address GM crops and the farmers right to land. These are the GM Free Agriculture Bill and the proposed Rice Industry Development Act, which are supported by KMP, RESIST Agrochem TNCs! and other organic and sustainable practitioners and farmers. These two bills will be forwarded in Congress in order to address the problems besetting the agriculture sector.

Local farmer groups from Quezon, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan converged and went to the gates of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to call on Secretary Proceso Alcala to disapprove the application for the commercialization of Golden Rice. They also brought and ate kamote (sweet potato) which contains five times more beta carotene than Golden Rice to show the DA that there are readily available, cheap and natural sources of Vitamin A.###


For reference:

Rafael Mariano, KMP National Chairperson | 09982898052
Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG National Coordinator | 09175442196
Estrella Catarata, PNFSP Executive Director | 09985416821