DI SAGOT SA KAGUTUMAN? | Asian farmers, scientists see no gold from genetically modified golden rice

April 20, 2017 - 7:26 PM
A scientist shows “Golden Rice” (R) and ordinary rice at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Laguna, south of Manila, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

MANILA, Philippines – While it’s called golden rice, Asian activist-farmers, scientists, and civil society groups see nothing golden about the grain. They claim that in fact, the cereal grass, produced via genetic engineering, will bring gloom to agriculture and threaten food security in Asia.

On Thursday, April 20, amid the celebration of Earth Day, Asian people’s organizations from the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia belonging to the Stop Golden Rice! Network decried the revival of golden rice field trials in the region and accused agrochemical transnational corporations of environmental destruction.

The network called for the “immediate halt” of the trials as these “would adversely affect the staple food crop of billions of people across Asia.”

“This will prove disastrous to our already volatile rice production,” said Cristino Panerio, national coordinator of the Philippine-based farmer-scientist group called Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura or Masipag.

In the Philippines, applications for field-testing and even the direct use of golden rice are awaiting approval from the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture, according to the network.

Panero said golden rice “is unfit for commercial cultivation due to its phenotypic abnormality and lower yields compared to the other local rice varieties.”

“IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) stated in its website last 2014 that average yield was unfortunately lower than that from comparable local varieties already preferred by farmers,” he said in a statement Thursday.

“It is highly likely that this inherent defect associated with the modification of the rice plant has disrupted the native structure of the rice plant making it perform less,” added Panerio.

He said the crop’s poor performance trait could possibly transfer to other rice varieties through cross-contamination once the field testing is approved.

Effects of GM crops in other countries

The network also mentioned the alleged negative effects of other genetically modified crops, citing several case studies in other Asian countries wherein GM crops had been introduced.

The members of the network are: Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-India; Pesticide Action Network-India; ORRISSA-India; Community Entrepreneur Development Institute-Vietnam; Centre for Sustainable Rural Development-Vietnam; Serikat Perempuan-Indonesia; Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria-Indonesia; Southern Peasants Federation-Thailand; Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura-Philippines; Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Philippines; RESIST Agrochem TNCs-Philippines; Philippine Network for Food Security Programmes-Philippines; Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya-Philippines; GRAIN; Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific; and Asian Peasants Coalition.

In India, the network observed that “lots of non-germinating Bt cotton seeds are causing losses to farmer investments.”

“(F)armers are left with no compensation from private seed companies,” said Dr. Narasimha Reddy Donthi of the Pesticide Action Network-India.

Meanwhile, the network claimed that in Vietnam and Indonesia, large corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta had taken over the countries’ agricultures and allegedly destroyed the environment, and had exploited farmers.

“It is high time for farmers movements to strengthen and globalize resistance against the increasing corporate control in agriculture and fight for food sovereignty. We must fight the introduction of Golden Rice and other GM crops,” said Panerio.

Swiss company Syngenta currently owns golden rice patents. It had recently merged with ChemChina, another giant agrochemical company based in China.

But according to the IRRI, Syngenta had arranged for royalty-free access to the patents and intellectual property of golden rice, allowing the research institute to develop the crop on non-for-profit basis.

What is golden rice?

Golden Rice is genetically modified rice containing beta carotene that becomes vitamin A when processed in the body. The beta carotene gives the rice grain its golden color, hence its name.

It was developed by professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer in 1999.

The Laguna-based IRRI and the Philippine Rice Research Institute are tasked to determine if the grain is safe for human consumption.

Golden rice is seen as a solution to combat malnutrition, especially vitamin-A deficiency, which causes blindness and poor immune system among Filipino children.

This was not the first time that the GM crop drew flak from anti-GMO groups in the Philippines.

In 2013, about 400 militant farmers attacked the field trials where golden rice was planted at the research facility in Pili, Camarines Sur. Calling golden rice “poison,” the critics claimed that the genetically modified grain posed danger to human health and the environment.

International environmental group Greenpeace is also against golden rice, saying it is a “fake remedy for vitamin-A deficiency.”

Meanwhile, the IRRI said golden rice would only be available to farmers and consumers if it would finally be determined that the grain would be safe for humans, animals, and the environment.