Ifugao Rice Terraces declared GMO-Free Zone

Feature story - March 17, 2009
The iconic Philippine Rice Terraces in Ifugao Province, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site, was declared a genetically-modified organism (GMO)-Free zone. The historic declaration, which is in line with the province’s commitment to preserve the integrity of the country’s most enduring cultural symbol, was enacted by Ifugao Governor Hon. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. and Banaue Mayor Hon. Lino Madchiw, with the support of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The iconic Philippine Rice Terraces, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site, was declared a geneticaly-modified organism(GMO) free zone. Greenpeace volunteers together with local guides unfurled a giant banner with the words "GMO-FREE ZONE" at the site.

To commemorate the declaration, Greenpeace volunteers together with local guides unfurled a giant banner with the words "GMO-Free Zone" at the World Heritage site. Governor Baguilat, Mayor Madchiw, Cathy Untalan of Miss Earth Foundation, and Daniel Ocampo of Greenpeace Southeast Asia led ceremonies of the public unveiling of a permanent marker containing the declaration.

"The Ifugao people, guardians of this living cultural heritage of humanity, shall keep the Ifugao Rice Terraces a GMO-Free Zone as it has always been for generations. The Ifugaos shall protect the Ifugao Rice Terraces from GMO contamination and other forms of interventions that would diminish the integrity and universal value of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, so that it will continue to be a living testimony of the harmonious relationship of man and nature," said Governor Baguilat.

The Ifugao Rice Terraces, with a total area of around 10,360 square kilometers, has been in existence for more than 3000 years. In 1995, it was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List as "a living cultural landscape of great beauty that exemplifies the perfect interweaving of natural and cultural values in a sustainable manner." Four municipalities and 18 barangays are covered under the World Heritage site. Ifugaos have traditionally planted rice in the terraces without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides and have freely traded seeds, among them the famous Tinawon organic rice.

"The Ifugao Rice Terraces is a symbol of how the Philippines is a center of origin and biodiversity of rice, and exemplifies how rice, our most important food crop, is a unique and inherent part of our culture. This rich rice heritage, which the declaration today serves to protect, should be a source of pride for us Filipinos. GMO crops compromise this rice heritage: genetic engineering of food crops poses risks to the environment, human health, farmers' livelihoods and consumers' choice and should therefore be rejected," said Daniel Ocampo.

Greenpeace campaigns for GMO-free crop and food production that is grounded in the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health. Greenpeace launched the 'I love my rice GMO-free' campaign in March 2007 with the aim to activate consumers to 'stand up for their rice' and to drive a movement to protect our staple.

Notes: GMOs are plants or animals whose DNA have been manipulated to accommodate genes from entirely different species, such as a rice crop inserted with genes from a bacteria or an animal. They are entirely different from crop varieties developed through conventional cross breeding techniques. Because governments recognize the dangers of GMOs, these crops are highly regulated. Genetic manipulation is an imprecise and risky process. Aside from the fact that the resulting genetically modified organisms would never occur in the natural world, the new organism created is a living experiment--its long term effects on the environment, on soil and on biodiversity, are unknown. GMO food crops also pose risks to health and no long term health studies have ever been conducted. And because these crops are controlled by giant seed companies, they threaten the livelihood of farmers whose crops are in danger of being contaminated by GMO varieties. Greenpeace has been at the forefront of the campaign to prevent the release of GMOs into the environment. In 2007, the environment group launched the 'I love my rice GMO-free' campaign. No GMO rice has is approved for human consumption or propagation in the Philippines, but GMO rice from the United States have slipped into the country at least twice, despite measures by the National Food Authority to ensure that US rice imports are GMO-free. At present, an application for the approval of a GMO rice variety is lodged at the Department of Agriculture. If the application is approved, the Philippines may become a dumping ground of GMO rice rejected by other countries.

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Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigns against genetic engineering which is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health. To continue this work, we do not accept donation from public nor private sectors, but rely on people like you. Please give what you can.