Editor’s Note (April 13, 2021): In light of feedback from supporters of the Golden Rice initiative, it should be clarified that this article is not a comprehensive look at the topic at hand. Rather, it focuses solely on the protests being held. A more thorough look on the matter can be found here and here.
>> Groups calls flak against corporate control on food and agriculture
To commemorate the historic event when more than 400 farmers, urban poor, youths, and consumers uprooted Golden Rice – the world’s most hotly debated genetically modified organism (GMO) – in Pili, Camarines Sur back in 2013, the Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN) together with the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, Farmer-Scientist Partnership (MASIPAG) launched a week-long activity to condemn possible commercialization of Golden Rice in the country, corporate control on food and agriculture alongside other genetically modified crops.
The campaign comprises different sets of activities each day and will conclude on August 8 coinciding with the “International Day of Action Against Golden Rice” which is now in its 7th year. With the theme “Defend our Rice, Fight for our Rights,” the protest aims to raise the public’s awareness on the recent developments in Golden Rice and the current corporate agenda to food and agriculture amid COVID-19.
“There are enough reasons to safely conclude that multinational corporations are exploiting the dire situation of our food system during COVID-19 as a pretext for further greedy gains,” MASIPAG National Coordinator Cris Panerio said.
Panerio even added that the pandemic exposed what the alliance feared a long time ago – the country’s food system becoming flawed and weak and eventually failing to sustain the people’s needs.
Growing influence of corporations on food and agriculture
Consisting of more than 30 members coming from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka among others, SGRN gears towards strengthening network support and campaign collaboration against the onslaught of corporate control in food and agriculture.
In India, through a press release posted by SGRN, several GM crops, such as GM Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant with imposed moratorium last 2010, are being planted without authorization from the government. According to a report, India’s government is investigating the distribution of illegally procured crops as well as GM mustard and Bt Eggplant being relentlessly pushed for commercialization.
Meanwhile, Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, Bayer and Corteva AgriScience gave flak to the Philippine government’s agricultural program “Plant, Plant, Plant” as it has been hugely criticized by various farmer organizations and alliances to be prone to corruption.
International movement of grassroots group People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) also released a statement saying that food security amid the global pandemic acts as a time bomb if not addressed with a strong resolve to uphold the right to food and peoples’ welfare.
As they forward calls on food sovereignty and campaigns against corporate control on food and agriculture, SGRN, MASIPAG and other related Asian networks are yet to see the end of these growing influences on food and agriculture.
No to corporate agenda
SGRN called together other farmer networks and global research groups to reject corporate agenda on agriculture and food system as a response to the health crisis brought by the pandemic.
From the recently-concluded webinar in line with the week-long activity by SGRN entitled “From Gates to your Plates”, speakers from different countries and organizations shared insights, discussions and topics related to the alliances’ advocacies tackling issues such as the hand of corporations and so-called “pseudo-philanthropist” billionaires to food and agriculture particularly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Jakarta-based researcher Kartini Samon of GRAIN talked about “Agro-imperialism in the time of COVID-19” revealing how industries profited off from the “perfect storm” created by the pandemic.
“The Gates Foundation has effectively privatized international bodies in charge of creating food and health policy, transforming it into a vehicle for corporate dominance and weakening public health and food systems,” Samon added.
Meanwhile, Davao-based development and policy researcher Neth Daño of Erosion, Technology, Concentration (ETC) Group discussed “Big Tech, Philanthro-Capitalism and Global Food System Governance” emphasizing how tech companies are now venturing into the food industry to amass more profits from the people.
Samon further stressed the “propaganda” by corporations about GM crops being pushed as the solution to hunger brought by the pandemic. He even asserted to the point that some governments claimed that the COVID-19 health emergency made GM seeds necessary for food security.
On Golden Rice
One of the GM products that was said to solve hunger and malnutrition brought by the health crisis is the Golden Rice (GR). Famously endorsed as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency among women and children, GR is actively being pushed in Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia funded by the BMGF through the bio-fortification program.
Panerio reiterated that the Golden Rice project has been funded at least 130 Million USD only to show very little positive results on health. He said that around 84% of beta carotene is lost when GR undergoes storage, even worse with a further loss of 17%-24% of beta-carotene content after cooking.
He claimed that there is no enough studies and analysis to show nutritional composition, uptake of potentially toxic elements and levels of intermediate compounds present in the said GM product.
Luxembourg-based executive member of People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) Julie Smit in her presentation on the webinar shared that the world is fighting against a very big and even strong enemy aside from the virus – the various group of capitalist agri-business companies holding on power, policy and influences globally.
“We are in a global crisis. And we have no one else to blame but the tycoons behind programs that reoriented our agriculture, from a sustainable, need-based production into a profiteering business venture at the expense of millions of citizens across the globe,” Panero said. [P]
Photo credits to MASIPAG Facebook page