Letters to the Editor

Greenpeace rejoinder to M. Villanueva’s column

The Philippine Star

Greenpeace would like to respond to the column of Ms. Marichu Villanueva, “Scientific Debate, Not Mob Attacks” printed 23 September 2013, in the hope that your journalistic integrity will allow you to represent both sides of the debate fairly.

Greenpeace’s position on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is not an assault on Filipino scientists; in fact there are many scientists in the country who are opposed to it. There is no clear scientific consensus on the long-term impacts of GMOs on the environment or on human health which is why we opposed their deliberate release into the environment.  Research from around the world shows that releasing GMOs into the environment leads to contamination of conventional crops and denies farmers and consumers the right to choose what they want to eat or plant. 

We are not anti-science but we are against technologies that have not been proven to be safe by independent scientists.

Behind the claim by some Filipino scientists that these GM crops are designed as a humanitarian intervention is an uglier truth: GMOs are patented “inventions” owned by multi-national corporations which stand to gain from their commercialisation.  Let us be clear that GMOs are not designed to save poor people from malnutrition: they are designed to turn natural organisms like seeds into patented commodities which the massively rich multinational seed companies can sell to poor farmers, and keep selling to them every year. They aim to deprive farmers of their right to improve and own seeds, which are the source of all plant life.

This is already happening.  In the US for example, the Supreme Court recently heard a case that pit Monsanto against a 75-year-old Indiana soya bean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who used the progeny of Monsanto seeds to sow his land for eight seasons.   Monsanto says that by not buying seeds for each generation, the farmer violated its patents.     

These GMO experiments are chewing up valuable resources and research funds at Filipino universities and institutions that would be better used to develop ecological agriculture in the country.  

Your mention of the Department of Justice (DOJ) decision dismissing the petition to review the malicious mischief case against Greenpeace activists is not accurate. Firstly, the case was filed not by UP Los Baños (UPLB) but by one Dr. Taylo who did not show any authority to represent the university. Secondly, the DOJ decision that endorses the filing of a malicious mischief case with the court does not have any legal effect because the Bay municipal court has long started to hear the case since May last year. Thirdly, it is saddening to note that it took the DOJ two years to decide on the petition that obviously will not have any more bearing on the on-going case. Finally on this point, perhaps the only value of this irrelevant DOJ decision is that it is being used in some media reports and columns to divert the readers’ attention from the risks, hazards and adverse impacts of GMOs and undermine activism and public participation.

In May this year the Court of Appeals granted a Writ of Kalikasan — ordering the respondents — government agencies and UPLB Foundation and the UPLB â€” to cease and desist from conducting Bt eggplant field trials.  The Court of Appeals (CA) decided that the GMO Bt eggplant field trials violated the rights of Filipinos to a balanced and healthy ecology.  The decision came after a series of hearings which presented expert testimony from both sides of the debate. This scientific debate on GMOs has already happened and has led to the CA’s decision.

Your claim that Greenpeace is implicated in the recent uprooting of crops is simply untrue and unfair, and appears to be a blatant attempt to mislead the public.

Greenpeace works with a variety of civil society groups on our campaigns, including our anti-GMO campaign, but we have a long history of taking peaceful action to protect the environment, in line with our commitment to non-violent direct action in pushing for our campaigns.  

While we did not participate in the uprooting of crops, this is a signal of the growing unease among Filipino farmers who have seen what has happened to farmers in other poor countries, such as India after they swallowed the false promises offered by GMO companies. Being poor does not make these farmers ignorant or unaware. They have seen the spiral of crop failure, debt and suicide suffered by India’s farmers, and naturally do not want to follow suit.

We reiterate our position that the Philippines should not consider conducting experiments that will lead to the release of GMOs into the environment.  What should be done is funding be made available to develop crops using biotechnology that does not involve genetic engineering.  An alternative could be the use of marker assisted selection or breeding, which does not involve the artificial insertion of genes from one organism to the other, and has already brought us crops that are resistant to pests and tolerant to certain climatic conditions. 

In the meantime, we stand firm as we call on the government and the scientific community to focus on developing ecological farming which will benefit both the environment and the Filipino people. — DANIEL OCAMPO, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering (SAGE) campaigner

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