GMO invasion of corn and rice alarm groups

Press release - October 30, 2012
Cebu City – Community groups in central Philippines today raised the alarm that white corn, the staple food in most of Visayas and Mindanao, is now tainted with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). The groups are protesting the Philippine government’s relentless approval of GMOs, particularly of Golden Rice and Bt corn, which can lead to widespread contamination in Filipinos’ staple food.

“Filipinos eat rice or corn for every meal, every day. The fact that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is bent on propagating GMO varieties like Golden Rice and Bt Corn for mass consumption is truly disturbing,” said Roberto Bajenting of the Cebu Coalition for Food Security. “We now see that dangerous GMO corn has cross-bred with normal corn crops. How do we now protect our rice crops to prevent the same thing from happening with GMO rice?”

In a food and agriculture forum held at the Queen City of the South, representatives from the Catholic church, Muslim groups, farmers, lawyers, and doctors belied claims by the Bureau of Plant and Industry and GMO proponents that GMOs will be beneficial to Filipino farmers and will help ensure the country’s food security.

Present during the forum were delegates from the Cebu Coalition for Food Security, Pagtambayoyong Foundation, Bohol Initiators for Sustainable Agriculture and Development, Inc., Negros Island Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Foundation, the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc., the Social Action Center, Diocese of Marbel, South Cotabato, the Institute for Strategic Research and Development Studies of the Visayas State University, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Aside from rice, white corn is widely planted in Visayas and Mindanao. Farmers in Bohol have raised concerns about soil contamination of Bt Corn. Bt corn is a corn plant genetically modified to contain an in-built pesticide. Varieties of this GMO crop have actually been banned in other countries due to health concerns. But Bt corn is being eaten by Filipinos--and cross-pollinating with conventional corn crops such as white corn—because it was approved by the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

Negative impacts of GMOs on the environment are well-documented. These include the emergence of super weeds tolerant to the herbicides that are used in tandem with herbicide-tolerant GMO crops, as well as the evolution of pests that resist the toxins in the Bt crops.  Farmers are continuously lured into a life of dependency on giant agrochemical companies for seeds and farm inputs.

Contamination is one of the biggest scientific concerns about GMO crops. Once GMOs are planted in open fields—whether as an experiment or for commercial planting—their ability to cross-pollinate with normal crops cannot be controlled. Unlike other food items that pose dangers to human health (for example the melamine-tainted milk scandal), GMOs cannot be recalled once they spread in the open environment. There is also no global monitoring system that keeps track of the contamination.

“GMOs have no place in our country’s agriculture and food systems. From farmers to consumers, all are unanimous in declaring that GMOs are unfit to plant and unsafe to eat,” said Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Instead of GMO propagation, government should push for sustainable and organic agriculture practices,” Ocampo concluded.

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For more information:

Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Campaigner, +63917-8110469

Vigie Benosa-Llorin, Greenpeace Media Campaigner, +63917-8228793 

Notes to editor:

1. GMOs are products of genetic engineering in which certain traits of one organism are randomly inserted into another organism in a way that can never happen naturally.  It is an inherently risky process - GMOs are uncontrollable once released into the environment thereby contaminating pristine GMO free environments.  These “unnatural organisms” threatens farmers’ livelihoods because they are patented, owned and controlled solely by multinational corporations, and farmers can be prosecuted if they save the seeds for planting.

2.  The most expensive GMO contamination case was in 2009 in the US. The United States federal jury ruling on 4 December 2009 ordered Bayer Crop Science LP to pay $2 million US dollars to two Missouri farmers after their rice crop was contaminated with an experimental variety of rice that the company was testing in 2006. The widespread GMO contamination of normal rice crops in the US in the same year was also caused by an abandoned GMO rice experiment conducted in 2001. See Greenpeace report, A Risky Business.

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