“Instead of promoting golden rice, the government must conduct researches on the nutritional values of indigenous vegetables and fruits.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — In a forum, June 24 at Mandala Park, Mandaluyong, farmers and advocates of organic farming called on the public to support their campaign against the field testing of golden rice in the Philippines.
Pending before the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry is the application for field testing of genetically-modified golden rice. The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) claim that the golden rice is the solution to Vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice is genetically modified rice with a gene from the maize plant and a soil bacterium (Erwinia uredovora) ,which forces the rice plant to artificially express beta-carotene.
Cris Panerio, national coordinator of Masipag, sees a problem with the proponents’ claims. He said there have been no independent and evidence-based research on the effects of golden rice on health and its impacts on the environment.
Panerio fears that the golden rice “might be the Dengvaxia in agriculture.” “As a genetically-modified crop, it has the ability to reproduce and might contaminate traditional varieties of rice. The impacts would be irreversible,” Panerio told Bulatlat in an interview.
Dengvaxia is the dengue vaccine that became a controversy after the drug company Sanofi admitted that it might lead to severe dengue infection for those who have not been previously infected by dengue virus. Hundreds of Filipino public students were vaccinated by Dengvaxia even as the Department of Health did not complete its safety testing.
Panerio explained that the proponents’ argument of “substantial equivalence” does not hold water. “Golden rice is not substantially equivalent to the rice we eat. We have not eaten rice with a gene of a bacteria and gene of a corn. This is why we’ve been asserting precautionary principle on golden rice,” he said.
The Masipag national coordinator said golden rice should be subjected to scientific studies such as proteonomics and metabolonomics to determine its impacts on the human health.
In a previous Bulatlat article, toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano also warned that field testing of golden rice is not safe. Quijano explained that infectious viral pesticides used in GMO crops introduce new chemicals that can lead to allergies and new infectious diseases. “The disruption of gene ecology leads to new toxic substances that can cause various diseases including cancer,” he said.
Like the Dengvaxia fiasco, Panerio fears that it would be difficult to demand accountability once damage has been done. “Under our law, proponents of golden rice would have no legal liability,” he said.
Farmers who would lose their livelihood due to contamination of GMO crop might not file for damages, Panerio said.
Masipag, Pesticide Action Network Philippines (PANAP) and Stop Golden Rice Network showcased different traditional varieties of rice, which they said are better alternatives to golden rice.
Virgie Nazareno, a farmer from Quezon province, called on the public to patronize products of organic farmers. Nazareno said there are alternatives to commercial and harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
Rowena Buena of Masipag lamented the government’s importation of rice. “The government should instead support local farmers to achieve food security.”
Meanwhile, Nona Andaya-Castillo of the Nurturers of the Earth and Tibak na Vegan also shared a recipe for fortified lugaw using indigenous vegetables rich in Vitamin A.
“Instead of promoting golden rice, the government must conduct researches on the nutritional values of indigenous vegetables and fruits and update the Philippine food composition table,” Castillo said.