By SHERWIN DE VERA
VIGAN CITY — The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) slammed the Philippine government for issuing the biosafety permit for Golden Rice, which paved the way for its direct use as food, feed, or processing.
“This approval indicates the imminent commercialization of the Golden Rice in the Philippines, which will be an additional blow to local rice farmers who are already suffering from the impacts of rice liberalization,” said the coalition, composed of small crop producers and non-government organizations.
According to PCFS, the Philippines is the first country to issue a biosafety permit for the local distribution and consumption of the engineered rice strain.
“Filipino rice farmers are already losing – even going bankrupt – from the competition with unregulated rice imports. Now, the government wants them to plant and sell Golden Rice when it is more costly to produce, being patented and dependent on chemical inputs,” added the coalition.
ChemChina-Syngenta is the patent-owner of the Golden Rice and funds the project. The company is one of the ‘Big 4’ agrochemical transnational corporations in the world.
PCFS said, “it (ChemChina-Syngenta) is railroading its commercialization in the Philippines and Bangladesh to recoup from their merger.”
The acquisition of Syngenta was China’s largest overseas deal, which loaned the company about USD 33 billion to complete the USD 45 billion transaction in 2016.
The Philippine government issued the biosafety permit for the GR2E Golden Rice on December 10, 2019. The Department of Agriculture (DA) – Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) released the official notice for publication on December 18.
Golden Rice is a genetically modified (GM) rice variety developed to contain beta-carotene, which becomes Vitamin A when processed by the body. Proponents of the crop publicized that it can significantly help decrease Vitamin A deficiency in high-risk, rice consuming countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, the market release of Golden Rice is still pending in Bangladesh. However, the Ministry of Agriculture has been vocal in favoring so. Regulatory bodies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the US had also released safety approvals last year for the crop.
Health and safety concerns
With the Philippine government’s consent, the DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the developers of the seed, can now proceed with the “sensory evaluations” toward the commercial release of the Golden Rice.
In the 22-page consolidated report, BPI, together with the DA-Bureau of Animal Industry, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biosafety Committee and Department of Health-Biosafety Committee, noted that the crop does not pose serious health threats. They likewise recommended the issuance of the biosafety permit.
The DA bureaus said that Golden Rice is “safe for human food and animal feed as its conventional counterpart.” Meanwhile, the DOH unit who reviewed the crop concluded, “GR2E Rice will not pose any significant risk to health and environment and that hazards, if any, could be managed by the measures set by the department.”
However, PCSF said that the consumption of Golden Rice poses a threat to the public health and livelihood of local farmers. The group stressed that these reasons are enough to stop its release.
“Shame to these governments in supporting the Golden Rice project when its claim to fame – as a solution Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) – is a whopping lie,” it added.
The group pointed out that many studies proved that the beta-carotene content of Golden Rice is too low and quickly degrades during storage and cooking. This means that eyeing the crop, as a solution for VAD, is “pointless.”
“The planting of Golden Rice will also contaminate farmers’ traditional crops and contribute to the degradation of the environment, as other studies on GM crops have shown,” explained PCFS.
In its October 2013 publication, Golden Illusion, the broken promise of “Golden” Rice, Greenpeace said the crop is ineffective to fight VAD, poses risks to the environment and human health, and compromises food security. In an earlier publication, ‘Golden’ Rice’s Lack of Lustre, the group reported that “generous funding channeled into the
development of ‘Golden’ rice would be far better applied toward existing methods to fight VAD, those which favor sustainable food systems, provide food security and increase agricultural diversity…”
“GM crops like Golden Rice will never be the answer to hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines and in any other country. Governments should first tackle the widespread landlessness and poverty in rural areas,” PCSF stated.
The group pointed out that “policies should gear toward strengthening domestic agriculture” and empower local farmers. PCFS also asked the Philippines to overturn its support, revoke the permits for the field and feed testing, and prohibit the commercialization of Golden Rice. # nordis.net