Greenpeace calls on Senate to ban genetically-modified (GMO) rice

Feature story - September 15, 2008
Greenpeace today called on the Philippine Senate to enact a legislation to ban the commercialization of genetically-modified rice (GMO) rice. The call was made at the opening of a photo exhibit in the Senate halls, featuring the importance of rice in Filipino life and culture and why it must be protected from risky genetic modification.

Greenpeace is calling on the Philippine Senate to legislate a ban on the sale of genetically-modified (GMO) rice. The call was made at the opening of a photo exhibit at the Senate Halls highlighting the importance of rice to Filipinos. Daniel Ocampo of Greenpeace accompanies Senator Jamby Madrigal in viewing the exhibit.

"Greenpeace is here at the Senate to lobby our senators to enact a legislation to protect our most important staple food from the inherent risks of genetic engineering.  Genetic engineering is an unproven, unpredictable and unnecessary technology.  The resulting

genetically-modified food crops threaten human health, the environment, and farmers' livelihoods," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic Engineering Campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs are products of genetic engineering in which the genes of one species are inserted randomly into the DNA of an entirely different organism in a way that can never happen naturally.  An example is a tomato inserted with genes from a fish to create a vegetable with a longer shelf life, or corn inserted with bacteria genes to create a crop that has its own built-in insecticide. Aside from the fact that the resulting living GMO would never occur in the natural world, the new organism created becomes a living experiment-it is unpredictable and its long term effects on the environment and human health are unknown.

Greenpeace has been actively campaigning against the commercialization of GMOs in the country and is currently questioning the Department of Agriculture's (DA) regulation process for GMO crops, which, aside from being unconstitutional, lacks transparency and appears to be heavily influenced by corporate interests rather than the protection of consumers and farmers.  During the past few years, the environment group has noted with growing alarm how the regulatory bodies for GMO crops, the DA as well as the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), have never rejected an application of a GMO despite documented cases on questions of their safety and rejection by other countries, even by countries where they were developed.

Last year, Greenpeace also released a report which details how almost all key personalities involved in regulating the entry of GMOs in the Philippines are members of pro-GMO lobby groups funded directly or indirectly by multinational GMO corporations, or have been involved in research projects and GMO-promotion activities sponsored by GMO lobby groups, or directly by GMO manufacturers.  In the six years since GMOs have been approved in the country, the DA has been approving GMOs at a rate of almost one every month, without adequate public consultation or information.

Greenpeace believes that rice is now under threat.  Currently no GMO rice is authorized for commercialization in the Philippines but the environment group has documented that such experimental rice from the United States has entered the country's food chain at least twice in the past three years.  The DA has denied both instances but has refused to conduct stringent testing on the said US rice.  The GMO rice strain in the US rice was the result of an abandoned experiment, and its contamination of rice stocks created a major scandal that prompted countries to reject US rice imports in 2006 and 2007.

"The Philippines is a center for rice biodiversity and rice is our most important food. The clear message then is that the government must reject GMOs and instead look toward a future of farming and food production grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity, and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food."

Danny Ocampo

Genetic Engineering Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

At present, an application for GMO rice is pending at the DA, but in 2007, petitioners, supported by Greenpeace and SEARICE filed a court case questioning the constitutionality of the existing regulatory process for GMOs, as well as the lack of public participation in the said approval process.  This led, in September 2007, to the granting of a preliminary writ of injunction on the application of the GMO rice. The court case is currently on-going.

"The Philippines is a center for rice biodiversity and rice is our most important food.  The clear message then is that the government must reject GMOs and instead look toward a future of farming and food production grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity, and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food," said Ocampo.

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