By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – A farmers’ group called on the Agriculture department to revoke the permit to commercially propagate the genetically modified crop, golden rice, saying it is not in the interest of both Filipino farmers and consumers.
Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry Director George Culaste issued a biosafety permit for the crop on July 21, 2021, the first and only issuance in the whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
“A government-sponsored propagation of the Golden Rice could risk genetic contamination or even the very existence of at least 229 officially documented local traditional rice varieties,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas National Chairperson Danilo Ramos in a statement.
Billions in losses
Ramos said Filipino farmers are “now set for further losses if the propagation of golden fice pushes through. He said that rice farmers ”have already suffered P165 billion ($3.2 billion) in losses due to the passing and implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law in 2019.
The group also expressed concerns over the “bigger superprofits” that will only benefit huge agrochemical corporations.
He explained that golden rice may not make many profits through seed sales but it will increase demand for various imported and costly chemical inputs required for its cultivation which will rake in billions for foreign agro-corporations.
Chinese state-owned agrochemical corporation ChemChina, acquired the Swiss agrochemical giant Syngenta Group, which holds a global and exclusive commercial license for Golden Rice.
Redundant and unnecessary
Golden Rice, which is genetically engineered with an inactive form of Vitamin A (beta-carotene), aims to address Vitamin A deficiency and is targeted for free distribution among poor subsistence farmers.
“We simply do not need this imported, costly, and hazardous technology to address Vitamin A deficiency,” Ramos said, adding that camote or sweet potato, which Filipinos have cultivated for centuries and in abundance all over the country, has 48 times more beta-carotene than golden rice.
Data from DOST’s Food and Nutrition Institute also revealed that Vitamin A deficiency prevalence among children six months to five years old had dropped from 40.1 percent to 16.9 percent.
Ramos insisted that addressing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, whose rates are worst among farmers and the rural population, should be addressed through genuine land reform and rural development.
“The only real and comprehensive solution is to intensively support local food production, foremost by providing farmers with land than other productive support – only then can farmers’ living standards be raised while ensuring local food supply. No genetic manipulation can address systemic rural poverty and hunger,” he explained. (JJE, RVO)