“We are very concerned as there are news that feed testing will start this year and that the harvest will be used in these feed experiments. In China, the people have protested against the feed trials on children, prompting proponents to compensate the affected families. We do not want our people, especially our children to be used in these experiments.” – Sikwal GMO
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — About 400 farmers from three provinces in the Bicol region uprooted the genetically-modified golden rice from the experimental farm of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Pili, Camarines Sur, August 8.
Members of Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan na Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO), an alliance of farmers, church people, students, academicians and consumers based in Bicol who are against GMOs and Agrochemical Transnational Corporations’ control on agriculture, staged the action to protest the field testing of golden rice. They pushed through the wired fence surrounding the 800 square meter lot at the DA compound and uprooted the golden rice plants in 15 minutes. About 30 policemen failed to stop the farmers.
Golden rice is genetically modified with genes coming from bacteria and corn to produce beta carotene. Proponents claim it is the solution to Vitamin A deficiency. The project is being undertaken by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) with field trials being conducted in Camarines Sur, Ilocos Norte, Isabela and Nueva Ecija.
“The farmers have decided to take action against the ongoing golden rice field trials. Golden rice is not an answer to the country’s problem on hunger and malnutrition” Bert Autor, a farmer and spokesman of Sikwal-GMO, said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.com. Autor said the farmers were “fired up by warnings from concerned scientists and peasant leaders about the dangers of the Golden rice or genetically modified (GM)rice to health and its threat to biodiversity.”
Autor said the genetically-modified rice “was nothing but a ploy of agrochemical transnational corporations like Syngenta to satisfy their monopoly on seeds and rake more profits.” Syngenta, who owns the patent on golden rice, is a large global chemical company which markets seeds and pesticides and is also involved in biotechnology and genomic research. It ranked third in total seeds and biotech sales in 2009. Sales in 2010 were approximately $ 11.6 billion. Syngenta is listed on both the Swiss stock exchange and in New York.
Autor said they had a dialogue with officials of the DA last February to air their opposition to golden rice. He said the DA promised not to conduct any golden rice field trials but the trials continued. “We are very concerned as there are news that feed testing will start this year and that the harvest will be used in these feed experiments. In China, the people have protested against the feed trials on children, prompting proponents to compensate the affected families. We do not want our people, especially our children to be used in these experiments,” he said.
“This should serve as a stern warning to those planning to conduct GM field trials in Bicol. What we need is a comprehensive and long term solution to address hunger and malnutrition. Golden rice, and GMOs [genetically-modified organisms], in general, will only aggravate the already dire condition of the small and resource-poor farmers,” Autor said.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) described the uprooting as a “legitimate resistance by farmers against Golden Rice.” “The people’s health and food safety should be of paramount importance,” KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella who joined the protest action said.
Marbella criticized the Aquino government for allowing the field testing of the golden rice through the DA-Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI). “Golden Rice is nothing but a poison that will kill the people and agriculture. It wouldn’t work as it promised,” he said. “Even if Syngenta and proponents of golden rice are announcing that they they will make it royalty free and farmers can use the seeds for free due to humanitarian purposes, patents will still be owned by Syngenta, and they can change the agreement regarding royalties any time.”
The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), an Asia-wide coalition of farmers in nine countries, hailed the action undertaken by the Bicolano farmers. The APC said there are better ways of relieving vitamin A deficiency, such as encouraging farmers to grow and eat other vegetables, which are cheaper.
The APC also belied reports that the Philippine government has no official position on golden rice, pending the results of the forthcoming tests. Zenaida Soriano, APC Southeast Asia coordinator, said the Aquino government approved the field testing of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Syngenta’s golden rice.
Rahmat Ajiguna, APC secretary general, said farmers cannot trust any scientist or government official with alleged financial ties to IRRI, Syngenta, Monsanto or to any agrochemical TNCs. The APC revealed that the leader of IRRI’s Golden Rice project, Gerald Barry, is a former research director of Monsanto. Barry leads the Golden Rice projects in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. He worked in Monsanto for 20 years before moving to IRRI in 2003. Monsanto, an American gene giant created the BT corn that is now being commercially produced in the country.
“The development and promotion of Golden Rice illustrates an imperialist plunder of Asian agriculture that monopolizes seeds, limits bio-diversity and lessens dietary diversification, which primarily causes malnutrition,” Soriano, also the chairwoman of the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), said.
Meanwhile, in support of the action, the Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST) said they will seek the help of the Anakpawis partylist to re-file in the 16th Congress the GMO Free Food and Agriculture Act , a bill that will prohibit field testing of GM crops and ban the entry of all GM crops and food products.
Dr. Chito Medina, convenor of Resist and Masipag (Farmer and Scientist for the Development of Agriculture) national coordinator, said his group “is calling for an immediate stop to all field testing of GM crops, including Bt Talong, because of the hazards they pose to human health, environment and agriculture.”
Last May, the Court of Appeals ruled against the field testing of another GMO, the Bt (Bacillus thurngiensis) eggplant, saying that the field trial violates the basic constitutional right of Filipinos to health and a balanced and healthy ecology. Bt eggplant is genetically modified to produce toxins against the fruit and shoot borer. The Court of Appeals stated that there is no full scientific evidence that will ascertain the safety of the product, and that there is no single law that governs the study, introduction and use of GMOs. The court ordered the permanent cease of Bt Talong field trials and the protection, rehabilitation and restoration of the environment.