Simultaneous protest actions against GM ‘Golden’ Rice staged in Manila and Davao

Press release - November 11, 2014
Manila/Davao City—Various stakeholders took action today calling on the Philippine government to protect the country’s diverse rice varieties threatened by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), particularly GM ‘Golden’ Rice [1] which is set to be approved for commercialization following field testing. Composed of farmers, organic rice consumers and traders, mothers and environmentalists [2], the groups trooped to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in Manila where they filed an extraordinary Opposition [3] against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new biosafety permit for further field testing, feeding trial and commercialization of GM ‘Golden’ Rice. They also unfurled a stunning 3-dimensional artwork depicting the Ifugao Rice Terraces [4] outside the BPI complex, challenging the government to walk the talk and “Be RICEponsible”, this year’s theme for National Rice Awareness month.

Simultaneously, at the opening of the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress (NOAC) in Davao City, local groups submitted a petition [5] bearing the signatures of thousands of individuals from all over the country to Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. The submission of the petition was coupled with a demonstration inside the organic agriculture congress where different groups displayed placards with the message “Protect our rice. No to Golden Rice.”

 

“Today’s activities in various parts of the country speak about the strong community resistance against GMOs, such as ‘Golden’ Rice. We do not want GMOs as we are well aware of the negative impacts it will bring to the environment and to our livelihood,” said Josing Demit-Manandil of the Mindanao Tri-people Women Resource Center (MTWRC). “With all their talk on rice self-sufficiency and productive climate-resilient farming, the government itself is not doing their part. So we are turning the tables on Sec. Alcala to be transparent and show concrete action against GM ‘Golden’ Rice,” stressed Demit. 

Other groups led by Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (SARILAYA), Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) and ARUGAAN, also served copies of the Opposition to concerned offices such as the International Rice Research Institute (Laguna), Philippine Rice Research Institute (Nueva Ecija), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Quezon City), Department of Health (DOH) and Helen Keller International (Manila).  Hellen Keller International said that it will be an independent evaluator and will be conducting the human feeding trials once ‘Golden’ Rice is approved by the regulators and deemed safe for human consumption.

The Bureau of Plant Industry is the sole agency responsible for GMO approvals. The flawed regulatory system has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard for their long-term impact on the environment and human health.

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens.  It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Daniel Ocampo, Ecological Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” Ocampo added.

The extraordinary Opposition addressed to Atty. Paz Benavidez II, BPI’s OIC Director stated: “While we recognize the good intentions of your office to permit in February, 2012, the multi-location field trials of genetically modified (GM) ‘Golden’ Rice in the Philippines, we felt aggrieved by your exercise of discretion without free, prior and informed consent of the target beneficiaries and stakeholders considering the serious scientific uncertainties on the health and environmental impacts of GM crops in general and of GM ‘Golden’ Rice in particular, and in the absence of administrative remedies in case the field experiments go awry and cause damage to Filipinos’ health and environment.���

It also asks BPI to provide transparent, inclusive and robust administrative process that will hear the groups’ opposition to GM ‘Golden’ Rice. And while the Opposition is pending, the group requests that BPI issues an order to cease and desist from further field testing, extension of renewal of the present biosafety permit and/or issuance of a new permit for GM ‘Golden’ rice varieties; and order, after adjudication, critical, inclusive and transparent, reviews of the biosafety regulation and GM ‘Golden’ rice research program in the Philippines.

Aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity. Greenpeace countered claims made by proponents saying how contamination   from GMOs can never happen. Greenpeace has revealed two cases of GMO contamination in rice varieties abroad [6], as well as here in the Philippines where corn varieties have tested positive for contamination by GMOs [7].

“Cebuanos are alarmed that corn, our second staple food, has already been contaminated by GMOs.  We strongly support moves to stop further contamination of our valued crops,” said Teresa Ruelas of GMO-Free Cebu. The group has worked hard to gather petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of GM ‘Golden’ Rice, as advocated by Vice-Governor Agnes Magpale of Cebu Province, City Councilor Nestor Archival and other Cebu LGUs.

“We challenge Sec. Alcala to take the lead and be firm in his mandate to protect our rights as farmers and consumers, and have the conviction to counter pressure from multi-national groups to discourage any further attempts by GMO proponents,” said Robert Bajenting of the Cebu Coalition for Food Security. 

For more information, please contact:

Vigie Benosa-Llorin
Media Campaigner

Mobile No. 0917-8228793
Email: 

Notes to editors:

[1] ‘Golden’ Rice is a genetically modified rice variety developed by the biotech industry to produce pro-vitamin A (beta carotene).  Proponents portray GM ‘Golden’ Rice as a technical, quick-fix solution to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD).  However, not only is GM ‘Golden’ rice an ineffective tool to combat VAD, it is also environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health and compromises food security. After more than 10 years of research ‘Golden’ Rice is nowhere near its promise to address Vitamin A Deficiency.  Recent field trials have shown unfavourable yield results (http://irri.org/golden-rice/faqs/what-is-the-status-of-the-golden-rice-project-coordinated-by-irri) so they would again have to start field trial experiments again.  

[2] The groups involved in gathering signatures for the petition and in filing the Opposition are MASIPAG, GMO-Free Cebu, Kilos Ka Sa kanayunan, CONZARRD, MTWRC, Cebu Coalition for Food Security, MISSION-Cebu, SARILAYA, Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), ARUGAAN, Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) and Greenpeace Southeast Asia. 

[3] The Opposition to the extension, renewal or issuance of new biosafety permit for further field testing, human feeding trial and commercialization of genetically modified ‘Golden’ rice with prayers to provide administrative remedies in biosafety and to shift research investment on GMOs to Ecological Agriculture.

[4] Ifugao Rice Terraces are a dramatic testimony to a communal system of sustainable rice production that has survived for two millennia.  This outstanding example of ecological agriculture that resulted from a harmonious interaction between people and its environment is under threat by GMO contamination once ‘Golden’ rice is approved.

[5] http://eco-agri.greenpeace.org.ph/

[6] http://www.gmwatch.eu/index.php/news/archive/2014/15744-gm-contamination-cannot-be-contained-new-paper

[7] White Corn in the Philippines:  Contaminated with Genetically Modified Varieties http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/PageFiles/566478/White-Corn-In-The-Philippines.pdf

Categories