Group warns against release of Golden Rice

Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A group promoting sustainable agriculture warned of the effects of the soon to be released genetically modified golden rice.

Masipag said Golden Rice could affect Filipino consumers’ health once released to the public as it failed to undergo rigorous testing for its safety.

Golden Rice is currently being harvested at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) headquarters in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

Philrice, the leading project proponent of Golden Rice in the Philippines,  has been marketing the GMO as “Healthier Rice,” claiming it will help solve Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). However, the amount of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to Vitamin A, is too negligible for Golden Rice to have a nutritional impact.

“With its measly beta-carotene content, there is nothing healthier about Golden Rice. Golden Rice may even cause further health and environmental problems.”said Cris Panerio, national coordinator of MASIPAG.

The United States Food and Drug Administration acknowledges the low beta-carotene content in its communication to the International Rice Research Institute in  May 2018, saying “the concentration of beta-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.“

Meanwhile, a study from India showed that the already paltry amount of beta-carotene in Golden Rice easily degrades, or disappears once the rice has been harvested, stored and cooked.

As much as 80 percent of the beta-carotene can disappear by the various processes, that the scientists recommend refrigerating or packing the Golden Rice in vacuum-seal just to preserve the beta-carotene content.

“Obviously, Golden Rice will be useless in curbing VAD. There are safer and better alternatives to Golden Rice such as our local kamote, malunggay, sayote and mangoes that have significantly higher beta-carotene,”  Panerio said.

MASIPAG and other stakeholders assert that instead of promoting Golden Rice and the genetic biofortification of rice, maintaining biodiversity in the farms and in the tables should be promoted instead.

“VAD and other malnutrition problems can be mitigated and addressed by having a diverse diet that does need to be advanced technology, nor an expensive commodity. Golden Rice is an example of a technology that does not address the main issues and problems of the agriculture sector. Being owned and developed by private seed and agrochemical corporations, it will only serve as a tool to further control our food and agriculture,” the group said.

“We are extremely alarmed that Golden Rice will soon find its way to our markets when the circumstances around the field testing remain sketchy,” said Alfie Pulumbarit, advocacy officer of Masipag.

“The Golden Rice field testing pushed through without the proponents satisfying the calls of the stakeholders for stricter testing and regulations,” he said.

Masipag is a national network of farmers organizations, NGOs, and scientists promoting sustainable agriculture in the Philippines,

 Since 2017, Masipag has been in discussions with the proponents and the Bureau of Plant Industry, the regulatory body tasked to look into the importation and introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

Demands from the stakeholders, including women’s and children’s groups and consumer networks, have fallen  on deaf ears as the field testing mechanism fail to address the concerns on safety and efficacy, or the effectiveness of the Golden Rice.

For instance, the field trials were only conducted in one cropping season, and in only two provinces, namely Nueva Ecija and Isabela.

“Instead of promoting Golden Rice, Philrice should focus instead on supporting our local rice farmers who are already in deep danger from the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law and the liberalization of the rice industry,” Panerio said.

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