Rice Watch Action Network, Inc. (R1) has raised concern over the government’s approval of the commercial propagation permit of the so-called Golden Rice, a genetically modified (GM) rice variety infused with vitamin A.
In a statement, R1 cited the lack of scientific literature behind the claim that Golden Rice will alleviate Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) when available research suggests that its beta-Carotene levels may not be high enough to make a difference.
The group is also worried about the potential impact of Golden Rice’s distribution to small Filipino farmers.
“What the government fails to recognize is the possible negative economic effects of genetically modified rice on our small farmers,” Neth Daño, R1 board member, said.
“The commercial propagation of Golden Rice begs the question: Who owns the technology? GMOs [genetically modified organisms] such as Golden Rice are protected by intellectual property rights which puts our small farmers at the mercy of transnational corporations that own the technology,” she added.
It was just last week when the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) granted a biosafety permit for the commercial production of GM rice. With this approval, the introduction of Golden Rice rice variety is expected to be made available soon to consumers and touted to address VAD among children in the country.
Daño said there is a lack of transparency with regard to the risk assessment results of such a decision.
“[DA’s] PhilRice [Philippine Rice Research Institute] claims that it has undergone satisfactory biosafety assessment but has not made the results public. It claims that it has undergone assessment with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the DA pursuant to Joint Department Circular No. 1 of 2016, but no reviews, results, nor assessments on health, cultivation, environmental, or socio-economic impacts have been presented by any of the aforementioned offices,” Daño said.
R1 is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that pursues policy changes in rice particularly in the area of trade and the nature of rice farming systems; and provides financial, marketing, and enterprise development assistance to small farmers.
The group proceeded to claim that Golden Rice instead presents problems such as the contamination of conventional rice especially traditional rice and wild varieties.
Promotion of genetically modified rice varieties could also result in further uniformity in varieties that could increase susceptibility to pests and diseases, it said.
For her part, Trinidad Domingo of Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK) said the DA should be promoting the consumption of beta-carotene-rich vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, squash and spinach through home gardens to ensure access to these natural and nutrient-rich foods.
“There are non-GMO and nutrient-rich rice varieties, such as naturally pigmented rice varieties and even NSIC 460 otherwise known as zinc rice, to help address malnutrition particularly stunting among children, but currently lacks promotion and support,” Domingo said.