“Tragedy has struck from the DA...This spells the death to our lands, farmers lives, heritage crops, healthy food. The world will look at us with total disdain,” came this urgent message from Teresa Ruelas, founder/executive director of CAFEi (Communities for Alternative Food Ecosystems Initiative).
In contrast, earlier that day, September 30, 2021, at the inauguration of the P272-million crop biotechnology center in Science City, Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar proudly launched golden rice (GR) and declared:
“We are the first country to approve golden rice for commercialization. As such, the rest of the world will be looking back on our experience with it before they join the bandwagon. As Golden Rice can now be commercially planted in the Philippines, we aim to complement current interventions to address malnutrition among children and pregnant women due to Vitamin A deficiency.”
Why is the Philippines the first to commercialize GR? Will other nations follow this country’s lead and later adopt GR as well? Or will the world look at us with total disdain for commercializing GR?
Why did DA proceed with the GR commercialization despite solid research and public protest?
In 2019, DA was asked by farmer groups, environmental/civil society organizations, in their submitted formal appeals, “to revoke their earlier approval giving GR the green light for food, feed, and for processing. The groups cited: 1.) The incomplete data submitted by the project proponents, and 2.) The lack of transparency and adequate public participation throughout the approval process.”
With no substantial reply from DA and no further public consultations conducted, in July, 2021, Greenpeace Philippines reiterated the protesting groups’ call to Secretary Dar for the DA “to reverse the decision about GR and instead represent the interests of Filipino farmers and consumers.”
Wilhelmina Pelegrina, senior campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, noted that “the continued approval of genetically modified ‘GM’ crops including so-called ‘Golden Rice’ will further drag down farmers amid climate and COVID struggles. The DA needs to ensure that farmers are central in a green and just recovery from the pandemic, and are supported by resilient food and farm systems in the face of the climate emergency. Instead of relying on GM crops such as GR that have no proven benefits to farmers and consumers, the DA should promote ecological agriculture that works with and for farmers, and which offers Filipinos diverse grains, fruits, and vegetables for diverse diets, ensuring food and nutrition security.”
Why have Filipino and international scientists, consumers, health advocates, and environmental groups protested and continue to protest against GR?
This write-up of Aeon Mapa of ESSA (Ecosystem of Stakeholders for Sustainable Agriculture) may be instructive.
One: “Golden Rice was engineered to contain levels of Vitamin A. GR developers claim that it is an essential intervention due to deficiency in the nutrient in children living in developing countries. Critics point out that GR is very low in Vitamin A content and that Vitamin A supplementation through other means has proven to be cheaper and sufficient as well.”
Two. “Golden Rice is not a humanitarian effort but a play to improve public perception of that GE crops as an aid to humanity and the developing world.”
Three. “The billions of dollars that went into developing golden rice could have very easily been spent on urban gardening projects, nutrition education and other long-term sustainable solutions.”
Four. “GR is an inefficient and costly crop to grow. Farmers need to buy seeds yearly and the toxic chemicals that need to be used damage the health of the farmers, consumers and contribute to the climate emergency which affects us all.”
Calling all to take action against GR!