More farmers groups on Thursday expressed opposition to the commercialization of the golden rice variety, arguing that the genetically modified organism (GMO) has some “serious” biosafety issues.
“Rice Watch Action Network, Inc. [R1], along with farmers groups denounce the approval of the commercial propagation permit of Vitamin A-infused rice, better known as Golden Rice, and raise serious concerns on its biosafety issues,” R1 said in a news statement.
R1 board member Neth Daño claimed that there is lack of transparency regarding risk assessment results of golden rice.
“Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute [DA-PhilRice] claims that it has undergone satisfactory biosafety assessment but has not made the results public,” Daño said.
Daño argued that the government did not present to the public any of the reviews, results and assessments on the impact of golden rice on health, cultivation, environment and socioeconomic well-being.
The Bureau of Plant Industry, an attached agency of the DA, approved the biosafety permit for commercial propagation of golden rice last July 21. In doing so, the Philippines became the first country in the world to approve the planting and sale of Golden Rice in its domestic market.
The permit stipulated that Golden Rice has “undergone satisfactory biosafety assessment pursuant to Department of Science and Technology, DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, and Department of the Interior and Local Government Joint Department Circular No.1, Series of 2016.”
“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,” R1 said.
Trinidad Domingo of Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK) said the DA should be promoting other beta-carotene-rich vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato, and squash instead of golden rice, a beta carotene-infused grain.
“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,” she added.
Daño argued that the Philippines can address Vitamin A deficiency through alternative and conventional nutrition programs “without necessarily harming the environment and the socio-economic standing” of rice farmers.
“We call for farmers’ control over seeds and strengthening of farm diversification and backyard gardening as alternatives to the commercial propagation of golden rice,” he said.
“It is imperative that there be a more rigorous assessment on GMOs such as the golden rice, more transparent presentation of the assessment by concerned government agencies, and participatory deliberation on the technology involving small-scale farmers and consumers,” it added.
PhilRice, an attached agency of the DA and a proponent of the golden rice project, said the GMO followed the standard process of rice breeding that usually takes 10 to 12 years before a new variety reaches the consumers.
Proponents will now seek varietal registration from the National Seed Industry Council to ensure that varieties are based on “consistent good agronomic field performance,” according to PhilRice.
“As always, we are committed to ensuring the highest quality of seed for farmers and a safe and nutritious food supply for all Filipinos,” PhilRice Executive Director John C. de Leon said in a recent news statement.
“[We] will be implementing a comprehensive quality assurance and stewardship program that covers all steps in the chain from seed production, to post-harvest processing, to marketing.”
A Global Agricultural Information Network (Gain) report said the commercial propagation of Golden Rice in the Philippines is a huge boost to the country’s efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and achieve food security by 2030.
The Gain report said with the biofortification of vitamin A in the country’s staple, “the Philippines will be better positioned to meet Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] number 2.” (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/07/28/golden-rice-will-help-phl-fight-malnutrition/)