Editor’s Note (January 19, 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 will be linked here upon publication.
Numerous groups of peasants, led by Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN) Philippines, protested in front of the Department of Agriculture (DA) office in Quezon City on November 9. Their goal being to appeal to the government to stop the experimentation and production of the genetically-modified ‘Golden Rice’ (GR) in the country.
SGRN also submitted a letter signed by 117 farmers, consumers, and food advocates that was addressed to DA Secretary William Dar. It calls for the halt of advertising Golden Rice, as they said it ‘garnered a failing grade from the alliance from its touted goals.’
Alfie Pulumbarit, SGRN Secretariat, expressed that DA prioritizes promoting GR instead of focusing to address the immediate concern of the farmers, especially during these times where a public health emergency is up and the country just overcame Super Typhoon Rolly that hit Southern Luzon.
“Our farmers faced the full brunt of the Rice Tariffication Law, and due to the pandemic and numerous natural disasters, they are being pushed back on the corners of our society,” Pulumbarit said.
Pulumbarit added that the DA’s focus on Golden Rice was a huge “disservice” to Filipinos.
“Instead of promoting and helping our farmers through concrete steps such as the lifting of the anti-poor rice liberalization resulting [in] low farmgate prices, the Department of Agriculture chose to serve corporate interest by promoting Golden Rice. This, in itself, is a blatant violation of their mandate and a disservice to the Filipino people,” Pulumubarit said.
Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women national chairperson Zenaida Soriano likewise pondered on what the distribution of Golden Rice could mean, especially for the target customers: the vulnerable populace.
“The product’s primary target are vulnerable members of the population, the pregnant or breastfeeding women and children. Will they be used as lab rats for the profit-making agenda by corporations?,” Soriano begged the question, followed by saying that there are sufficient, better sources for Vitamin A then Golden Rice.
All that glitters
The Golden Rice is a genetically-modified product that was tweaked to add beta-carotene in an attempt to address the worsening number of Vitamin A-deficient persons in the country. The vitamin being essential in keeping vital organs such as the lungs and the heart functioning, and plays an important role in one’s vision and immune system.
It gained support in 2013 after its field trial in Pili, Camarines Sur, but after its commercialization plan in 2014 failed to catch-on, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) declared the decline of average yield of the Golden Rice compared to other locally-produced rice varieties.
The GR Commercialization talks ignited after DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI), alongside GR proponent PhilRice, initiated another field test last 2019. This later gained approval from the DA-BPI for direct use of food, feed, and processing, despite contradictions and petitions from different farmer and food consumer groups, noting that its “unintended effects due to genetic modification” has yet to be seen, as well as the “dismal” beta-carotene content and its decline during storage.
This was not the first time food security advocates protested against GR, as the SGRN and the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) condemned the possible commercialization of GR, alongside its effects on alleged corporate control of food and agriculture in the country for a week last August.
In an article by MASIPAG, it was said that the Golden Rice program would widen the problem of hunger and poverty in the country for four reasons: (1) insufficient beta-carotene content, (2) lack of safeness tests, (3) possible contamination of other rice types, and (4) availability of alternative beta-carotene sources. They also added that the prevalence of highly-processed foods, such as the GR, contributes to the worsening trend of food insecurity and malnutrition.
Intense opposition against GR is due to the fact that it is not the mere solution in addressing the Vitamin A deficiency, but it makes the situation worse. MASIPAG cited the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2017 article, which stated the “lack of access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food” as the main cause of malnutrition, not just the deficiency of vitamins and nutrients.
Furthermore, the anomalous control of transnational corporations (TNCs) on agriculture and food prevents peasants from accessing quality and safe foods for them, their families, and the whole community. This, combined with the development of ‘biofortified’ crops such as Golden Rice that “solves health issues”, will lead to undermining of local communities to strengthen their food systems.
MASIPAG also advocates to find alternatives in addressing Vitamin A deficiency that should not be mitigated with having a “diverse diet.”
“Nutrition does not need to be an expensive commodity, nor rely on advanced technology. We believe that instead of pushing Golden Rice and ‘bio-fortifying’ crops through genetic modification, governments should promote biodiversity in farms and on tables by supporting safe, healthy and sustainable food production,” MASIPAG said. [P]
Photo from Stop Golden Rice Network / Facebook