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Environmentalists alarmed by report on golden rice

- Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Environmental activists expressed alarm at a recent scientific publication that suggested researchers, backed by the US Department of Agriculture, fed experimental genetically-engineered “golden rice” to 24 children in China aged between six and eight years old.

Fang Lifeng, sustainable agriculture campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said, “It is incredibly disturbing to think that an American research body, in a serious breach of scientific and medical ethics, used children as guinea pigs for genetically engineered food, despite a clear directive against this very experiment issued by Chinese authorities in 2008.”

“Greenpeace hopes the Chinese government will uphold its previous decision to stop such experiments. We are calling for a thorough investigation into this case and that adequate support be provided to the affected children and their parents,” Lifeng added.

Greenpeace East Asia first heard of this experiment in 2008 and immediately informed the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.

The Ministry confirmed with Greenpeace that no golden rice had been imported and the trial had been stopped.

However, these new findings reveal that this directive had not been upheld.

Greenpeace believes that golden rice does not address the underlying causes of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a more diverse diet, because it encourages a diet based on one staple.

While VAD remains a problem in some parts of Asia, some countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and Pakistan have made considerable progress in combating VAD in recent years through Vitamin A supplementation, food fortification and dietary diversification.

According to Greenpeace, while more work needs to be done to eradicate the problem, these existing and successful solutions are the ones that must be supported, rather than channeling millions into golden rice development.

The problem of golden rice is a concern in the Philippines, which is earmarked to be one of the countries where this genetically modified organism will be launched.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in Los Baños, Laguna and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) based in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, are the main proponents of this project.

Open field trials of golden rice are now currently ongoing in Nueva Ecija, Ilocos Norte and Camarines Sur, exposing conventional rice crops – the country’s staple food – to GMO contamination.

“The next golden rice guinea pigs might be Filipino children,” said Daniel Ocampo, sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“Should we allow ourselves to be subjects in a human experiment? There are already safe and proven solutions to vitamin A deficiency, which do not rely on the genetic modification of food. Filipinos should oppose approval of any GMO rice.”

Greenpeace is demanding that IRRI and the Department of Agriculture stop field trials of golden and other genetically-engineered rice varieties.

The group adds organizations that are funding the development of golden rice should shift their resources to boost current efforts to address VAD, particularly dietary diversification and empowering people afflicted by the deficiency.

CHINESE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE

DANIEL OCAMPO

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

FANG LIFENG

GOLDEN

GREENPEACE

GREENPEACE EAST ASIA

GREENPEACE SOUTHEAST ASIA

ILOCOS NORTE AND CAMARINES SUR

NUEVA ECIJA

RICE

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