Farmers, eco warriors vow to block ‘Golden Rice’
Farmer and environment groups Tuesday vowed to do everything to stop the release of genetically modified “Golden Rice” to farms and markets in the country owing to health and environmental concerns.
In a statement, Jaime Tadeo, spokesperson of the National Rice Farmers Council, accused producers and developers of Golden Rice of “sugarcoating” the Vitamin A-enriched product to give “a humanitarian face” to GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.
“Golden Rice has long been rejected by Filipinos and other parts of the world. Its creators are using this to improve their image and we know they are waging a major public relations campaign to win the hearts of Filipinos and get this GMO rice in our food on the table,” he said.
Research and development of Golden Rice began in 1992 with the prototype released eight years later by Syngenta, the third largest seed company and biggest agrochemical company in the world, according to environment watchdog Greenpeace.
The first generation Golden Rice had low concentrations of beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, and would have required 12 times its normal consumption to give consumers the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, a 2001 Greenpeace study showed.
In 2005, the Golden Rice project, supported by companies like Syngenta which owned patents on genes and processes involved in the production of Golden Rice, came out with the second-generation Golden Rice (GR 2) that supposedly had more beta carotene.
The second generation variety is being jointly tested by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in several locations around the Philippines, Greenpeace said.
“I am warning my fellow farmers. Once the government approves Golden Rice it will undoubtedly mix with our seeds and we will not be able to claim our farms as being truly organic. What will happen to our thrust of exporting specialty or organic rice to other countries,” Tadeo said.
The farmers’ group appealed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala not to allow the entry or release of GMOs in the Philippines, particularly Golden Rice, “because it will not only cost the country its emerging niche in rice exports but also endanger its biodiversity and pose unknown risks to human health.”
“We don’t see any benefits from allowing GMOs into the country. It will not increase our yield which would improve our incomes. Even the Vitamin A component of Golden Rice cannot be ascertained by its sponsors,” said Tadeo.
Greenpeace noted that IRRI, which is leading the development of Golden Rice, admitted in a statement dated Feb. 26 and posted on its website that “it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the Vitamin A status of people who are Vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.”
“If Golden Rice is approved by national regulators, Helen Keller International and our university partners will conduct a controlled community study to ascertain if eating Golden Rice every day improves one’s Vitamin A status,” it said.
“Syngenta may not be after large profits in releasing Golden Rice per se. They see this as a big opportunity to increase GMO brownie points by presenting this as a humanitarian program for the Philippines,” Tadeo said.