LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—A top member of International Rice Research Institute (Irri) expressed his disappointment over the data they had lost after a group of anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) activists stormed and uprooted crops from a field testing site of Golden Rice in Camarines Sur.
Dr. Bruce Tolentino, Irri’s deputy director general of communications and partnerships, said the field trial of Golden Rice was now on its third and final cycle but Thursday’s attack only caused “delays to research results [and] just made things more difficult.”
“What happened was a large group that had been gathered together by elements we don’t really know entered the rice field where experiments were taking place,” Tolentino said on the sidelines of “Women in Rice Farming,” a joint activity of
Irri, the Philippine Commission on Women, and the Department of Agriculture (DA) that was meant to enhance the role of women in agriculture.
In a statement issued on Friday, Irri said the activists vandalized its 1,000-square-meter field testing site located within DA’s Regional Field Unit 5 Bicol Experiment Station in the town of Pili in Camarines Sur province.
The Pili site is one of the five locations allotted for the field trial of Golden Rice, a new variety of rice genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene.
“Nearly all plants were uprooted and left on site. The trial cannot be continued and we are now conducting cleanup activities and reporting,” the statement read. No one was hurt in the incident.
The militant farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol and Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan na Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO) owned up the “surprise attack” on Thursday morning by about 400 farmers from Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Sorsogon.
Sikwal-GMO coordinator Bert Autor said the farmers uprooted the Golden Rice crops “in
15 minutes” after the protesters made their way past 30 policemen, who tried to stop them from entering the rice field.
The groups opposed the use of genetic modification due to its alleged threats to biodiversity and human safety.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas deputy secretary Wilfredo Marbella, in the same Sikwal-GMO statement, said the production of Golden Rice would only give transnational agro-companies the control and patent over the seeds and rice varieties.
“That’s really shortsighted because all we want is to complete the research [and] answer the questions that we’re all interested in,” Tolentino said.
Tolentino said that through genetic modification, scientists take only about two to four years of scientific studies and experiments, as compared with the traditional methods that take them 12 years to breed the crops.
“All it does is to speed up the process,” Tolentino said. “I can tell you, we’ve passed all the safety tests [and Golden Rice] is as safe as any other food out there.”
Irri has long been pushing for Golden Rice to fight vitamin A deficiency, which, it said, has affected 1.7 million children
(15.2 percent) in the Philippines.