‘China-owned’ Golden Rice to worsen PH rice crisis

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) slams the Philippine government on approving the direct use as food, feed, or for processing of the genetically modified Golden Rice. The Philippines is the first country to issue a biosafety permit, circulated last Dec. 10, 2019, for the local distribution and consumption of Golden Rice. This would enable the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), its developers, to proceed with the “sensory evaluations” toward the commercial release of the Golden Rice.

This approval indicates the imminent commercialization of the Golden Rice in the Philippines, which will be an additional blow to local rice farmers who are already suffering from the impacts of rice liberalization. Barely a year since the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law in the country, which removed the quotas of imported rice, local palay (unhusked rice) farmgate prices crashed to an average of PHP 12 (USD 0.24) per kilogram. In some areas, it is at PHP 7 (USD 0.14). Even a study of a government think tank projected local rice producers to a yearly loss of PHP 10billion (USD 200 million) yearly until 2030.

Filipino rice farmers are already losing – even going bankrupt – from the competition with unregulated rice imports. Now, the government wants them to plant and sell Golden Rice when it is more costly to produce, being patented and dependent on chemical inputs. The public health dangers of consuming Golden Rice and the threat its local production poses to local rice farmers’ livelihood are more than enough reasons to halt its release.

ChemChina-Syngenta, one of the ‘Big 4’ agrochemical transnational corporations in the world, is the patent-owner of the Golden Rice and funds the project. It is railroading its commercialization in the Philippines and Bangladesh to recoup from their merge. ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta was China’s largest overseas deal, and the company loaned about USD 33 billion to complete the USD 45 billion deal in2016.

Meanwhile, the market release of Golden Rice is still pending in Bangladesh although the Ministry of Agriculture has been vocal in favoring so. Safety approvals were also issued last year by regulatory bodies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the US.

Shame to these governments in supporting the Golden Rice project when its claim to fame – as a solution Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) – is a whopping lie. Golden Rice is biofortified with beta-carotene, which when processed by the body becomes Vitamin A. Proponents of the Golden Rice project insist that its consumption will help decrease VAD in high-risk, rice consuming countries including Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The market release of Golden Rice is also targeted in these countries from 2020 to 2021.

Many studies have already proven that the beta-carotene content of Golden Rice is too low and easily degrades during storage and cooking, which makes it all the more pointless. The planting of Golden Rice will also contaminate farmers’ traditional crops and contribute to the degradation of the environment, as other studies on GM crops have shown.

GM crops like Golden Rice will never be the answer to hunger and malnutrition in the Philippines and in any other country. Governments should first tackle the widespread landlessness and poverty in rural areas. Policies should gear toward strengthening domestic agriculture empowering local farmers, who can produce more than enough of the many vitamin-enriched crops that are cheaper than Golden Rice. In this regard, the Rice Tarrification Law should be revoked in the Philippines to alleviate the situation of local rice farmers.

More importantly, the rural peoples of the world should reject the domination of transnational corporations to our agriculture and food systems. PCFS urges the governments of Philippines and Bangladesh to overturn their support to the Golden Rice project, revoke their permits for the field and feed testing of the GM rice, and prohibit its commercialization. ###

(Photo by Michael Varcas/Philippine Star)

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