SAN PEDRO, Laguna, Philippines—The Department of Agriculture (DA) is building up a case against a group of farmers responsible for the August 8 attack on a field testing site of the controversial Golden Rice in Pili, Camarines Sur.
As of Thursday, the police have identified six persons from a horde of anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) activists, who forced their way into the DA’s experiment plot and uprooted the crops being tested there.
Chief Insp. Benjamin Spana, the police chief of Pili, declined to release their names until a formal case of malicious mischief and damage to property is lodged in the court.
He, however, said the DA has placed the cost of the damage at P1.3 million.
“I was told that (the) police identified some of them as young residents from Naga (City) paid to cause the damage. We believe none of them are farmers because farmers wouldn’t damage crops like that,” DA Bicol director Abelardo Bragas said by phone Thursday.
The Golden Rice is a new rice variety genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene. It is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and DA’s Philippine Rice Research Institute as a potential means to fight Vitamin A deficiency.
In a text message, IRRI Deputy Director General for Communications and Programs Dr. Bruce Tolentino echoed a statement from Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala that the research should be completed.
“We call on all concerned to respect the rule of law,” Tolentino said.
Environment and farmers’ groups have opposed the use of genetic modification, which generally meant altering the natural gene pool, until studies disprove its risks to human safety and biodiversity.
“We are not anti-science. In fact, we want more science done to establish first the molecular characteristics and the scrambling effects of rumbling and reassigning genes,” said environmental scientist Dr. Chito Medina, the national coordinator of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag).
Masipag, an alternative group of scientists based in Los Baños, Laguna, on Thursday held a press briefing in Quezon City to back the 400 Bicolono farmers and members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol and Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan na Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO who joined the DA rally.
In a phone interview, Media said the Golden Rice field trials went ahead without public consultation, environmental impact assessment, and prior safety tests on “surrogate animals”—the same reasons similar experiments in the US and China were stopped.
He questioned the need for developing such a variety, even with the availability of other crops, such as the yellow sweet potato and green leafy vegetables, which have proven to be better sources of Vitamin A.
“Sometimes science is being abused and misused even if the intention was good,” he said.