Alarm raised on testing of GMO riceBy Juan Escandor Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
NAGA CITY—A very low-key field testing of genetically modified “Golden Rice” in two Camarines Sur towns has stirred debate between organic farmers and farming advocates and those conducting the tests.
Representatives of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) and CamSur Organic Agriculture and Industrial Development Inc. (Camsoaid) raised alarm over the field tests, saying the genetically modified rice variety could contaminate traditional rice varieties in farms near the testing sites in the towns of Pili and Tigaon.
Masipag and Camsoaid demanded an immediate stop to the tests.
Masipag is the organization that was able to obtain a writ of kalikasan from the Supreme Court last month against new applications for field tests of Bt eggplant, another genetically modified plant which was tested last year at Central Bicol State University for Agriculture here.
Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice variety inserted with genes from corn, and Erwinia uredovora (a bacteria found in soil), which enables it to produce beta carotene and gives grains a golden color, according to Masipag.
Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator, said in a statement the field tests in Pili and Tigaon were “exposing nearby rice plants to possible contamination.”
“Golden Rice is not naturally consumed by humans and does not naturally exist in the environment. We need to be extra careful in dealing with GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” Medina said .
But Dr. Antonio Alfonso, plant molecular biologist and head of Philippine Rice (PhilRice) projects to test GMOs, brushed aside fears of contamination, saying the field testings of Golden Rice in two locations were being done in controlled conditions that follow safety standards set by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).
Alfonso confirmed that Golden Rice is a genetically modified variety created by Ingo Potrykus, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Peter Beyer, of the University of Freiburg in Germany.
Alfonso said PhilRice is carrying out the field tests under the direct supervision of BPI in partnership with the regional Department of Agriculture office and the local government units of Pili and Tigaon.
He said grains of Golden Rice were planted on a 950-square-meter area each in Pili and Tigaon last March and were harvested in June yielding about three sacks of grains per field test area.
He said samples were taken for further study. Most of the harvest, he said, was destroyed.
“The Golden Rice seeds were planted in a very small manageable area isolated from the rest of the rice plants,” Alfonso said.