Filipino Farmers Say No to GMO
Image Credit: Flickr (JasonParis)

Filipino Farmers Say No to GMO


Unhappy with the prospect of essentially being force-fed genetically modified Golden Rice that packs an added vitamin-A punch, a group of 400 farmers in the Philippines recently stormed a field at a government research facility in Pili, in the province of Camarines Sur, and destroyed roughly 10 football fields’ (1,000 square meters) worth of the test crop.

The act of mass protest was motivated by the farmers’ collective disdain for genetically modified organisms (GMO), which they said have not yet been proven to be safe for consumption.

According to those who oppose the introduction of GMO crops to the Philippines – and elsewhere – the answer to malnutrition is not bioengineering, but alleviating poverty.

The farmers worked not alone, but in concert with students, academics, and other members of the public under the umbrella of SIKWAL-GMO. “Golden Rice is not an answer to the country’s problem on hunger and malnutrition,” said Bert Autor, as quoted by the Philippine newspaper RemateAutor added, “They were not able to control their emotional outburst” upon hearing the dangers of Golden Rice.

“The Golden Rice is a poison,” added a farmer named Willy Marbella who also serves as deputy secretary general of a group of agricultural activists called KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines).

Beau Baconguis, program manager for Greenpeace Southeast Asia in the Philippines conceded, “There is not enough safety testing done on any GM crops.”

Golden Rice is a GMO strain of rice developed in the 1990s by Ingo Potrykus of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg in Germany. The GMO crop is imbued with beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A that accounts for its yellow color.

The motivation for developing the strain of rice was to supplement diets in poverty stricken countries where starchy foods predominate. The New Scientist notes that every year, vitamin-A deficiency kills up to 2 million people and leads to blindness in 500,000 children worldwide. Golden Rice purportedly covers 60 percent of the required daily vitamin A intake.

A statement from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reads: “Farmers would be able to grow it like other rice and it won’t cost them any extra, and it would not cost consumers extra either. Golden Rice will be available to farmers and consumers only after it has been determined to be safe for humans, animals, and the environment and authorised for propagation and consumption by the appropriate regulatory authorities. Therefore, Golden Rice, if and when released, will be as safe as other rice.”

There are also business concerns at play. Regardless of whether they eliminate the crops that spring up, the risk of crosspollination exists. If this were to happen, the farmers would risk facing boycotts on their crops.

Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of the IRRI, dismissed these concerns. “These are confined field trials,” Tolentino said. “They’re fenced. They’re covered by nets. They’re protected from rats and birds. And, we hoped, people.” Tolentino further pointed to evidence that rice generally self-pollinates and does not normally contaminate other crops.

In the wake of the event, the IRRI labeled the farmers “vandals” and proceeded to release a video singing the praises of GMO.

Vandals or not, the farmers’ concerns were not entirely unfounded. In June, unapproved GMO wheat was discovered sprouting from a field in Oregon this spring, which led to boycotts of U.S. wheat by Japan and South Korea.

Acknowledging the farmers’ concerns, Baconguis added, “I think that the farmers know what they want,” she said. “What they want is a safe environment that they can grow their crops in without fear of contamination and a subsequent boycott…This is playing with the lives of people when you are using Golden Rice to promote more GMOs in our food.”

Despite what went down in Pili last week, the Philippines is one of the first Asian nations to jump on the GMO bandwagon, including corn as well. On the other hand, the country has also turned down other GMO offerings, as seen in the ruling earlier this year that a GM eggplant known as Bt talong is unsafe for human consumption.

Bob Phelps
August 24, 2013 at 22:06

There is enough food for all but it is traded to where it is most profitable, not where it’s most needed. R&D group HarvestPlus aims to ‘biofortify’ rice, cassava, bananas & sweet potato with Vitamin A. But all these staples – 90% of the diet in some communities – are all deficient in many essential nutrients. As HarvestPlus admits: "Fruits, vegetables and animal products are rich in micronutrients, but these foods are often not available to the poor. Their daily diet consists mostly of a few inexpensive staple foods, such as rice or cassava, which have few micronutrients. The consequences … can result in blindness, stunting, disease, and even death." So, malnutrition and starvation are problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice that this technology cannot solve. Empowering people with seeds and land to produce fresh fruits and veges – or adequate incomes to buy more diverse and affordable fresh foods – would be durable solutions to hunger and malnutrition. Golden Rice is just a Trojan horse for GM companies.

August 19, 2013 at 09:13

the sick evil part of all this is that these GMO plants can cross pollinate and are changing the nevironment by effecting insect species like bees.. like a fence and nets will contain rats and birds in 10 football fields… 

August 17, 2013 at 06:52

Where is the proof and or evidence that GMOs are safe. Drug companies have to prove that their drugs are safe and also publish all the documents and studies as evidence. 

Penicillin is a drug that is manufactured/ cultured in a lab but its origins are organic as is the BT (bacillus thuringiensis) part of BT corn for example. So why aren't these new genetically modified plants that aren't natural in any way shape or form allowed in the marketplace without testing and proof that they are safe to consume?

August 16, 2013 at 11:04

Hell yeah GMO is used  only to gain money

August 15, 2013 at 20:21

The GMO seedlings and farming of its seedlings was just a business of the wealthy world business specially the communist china, ti benefits their business and not the farmers because you canot propagate it for next croppings and you have to buy again another seedlings for next croppings so it is anti-farmers…

August 15, 2013 at 17:42

Yeah, where are their evidence concluding that GMOs are unsafe? Well in this case at least, Golden Rice? Published, peer-reviewed, scientific paper please, the likes of coming from NCBI, Nature, The Smithsonian, New Scientist – not just blurted out.

August 14, 2013 at 22:15

Scientists, too, have been speaking against GMOs — just not the big agrobusiness-salaried scientists that you approve of.

August 14, 2013 at 16:27

the govt or private org needs riot police for these idiots.

August 14, 2013 at 11:22

Yes mas me alam sila kaysa sa mga doctors, scientists at nutritionists. Halos maubos na population nang mundo dahil sa French fries na GMO! (Yes they know me more than doctors, scientists and nutritionists. Population has nearly depleted the world because of French fries to GMO!)

ramon san agustin
August 14, 2013 at 09:40

Lets us supports our FARMERS. They know best what we supposed to eat. Lets BOYCOTT GMO foods in the Philippines. Thanks po.

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