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Farmers’ group renews call vs Golden Rice

By Mavic Conde

SIKWAL-GMO, a Bicol farmers’ group formed as an initiative against Golden Rice, once again calls for unity against the genetically modified rice, after it has been approved as the first genetically modified staple food for commercial use.

“To all farmers, we must unite. We must oppose and campaign [against] the commercialization of Golden Rice in Bicol and across the country. So that we can better meet our needs and not rely on foreign corporations, especially in times of crisis,” SIKWAL-GMO spokesperson Bert Autor said in a recorded video that was shared on Facebook by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Bicol.

In July, the Department of Agriculture (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) provided the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) with a biosafety permit for commercial propagation of Golden Rice, which the latter developed together with International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Golden Rice is genetically modified to have an enhanced provitamin A content. It can “provide up to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for vitamin A of young children, the age group most susceptible to Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) in the Philippines,” according to DA-PhilRice’s news release.

The news release cited Dr. Jean Balié, director general of IRRI, a CGIAR research centre saying that “This milestone puts the Philippines at the global forefront in leveraging agriculture research to address the issues of malnutrition and related health impacts in a safe and sustainable way.”

Yet grassroots farmer-led movement like SIKWAL-GMO has remained opposed to Golden Rice. “We have long asserted that we don’t need GMOs which are intertwined with the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides,” said SIKWAL GMO member Ramon Oliva, who was quoted at the start of the video.

LAND DISTRIBUTION. The Department of Agrarian Reform-5, in partnership with the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur, distributed certificates of land ownership awards (CLOAs) to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) from Bato, Bula, and Baao. pgomultimedia/mmec08252021

“We have our own traditional rice varieties and sustainable ways of farming. We have also developed our diversified and integrated farming which is our source of nutritious food, pride, and freedom,” Oliva added. In 2013, members of SIKWAL-GMO uprooted all the GM plants in a trial farm inside the DA Bicol compound.

A Growing Culture, an agricultural cooperative that is working with a network of farmers’ groups that also oppose Golden Rice, wrote in a Facebook post that “Not only does Golden Rice fail to address VAD, it consolidates corporate control and further exacerbates the problem that it claims to solve.”

When compared to other food sources with the same beta-carotine content (converted by body into Vitamin A), Golden Rice doesn’t fare better. Its beta-carotine content also diminishes quickly over time, according to studies cited by A Growing Culture. The organization asserted that “peasant farming communities suffer from vitamin deficiency because they are impoverished.”

With gene editing, Asian farmers will struggle more for food sovereignty since it puts the control of our food and agriculture on corporations, said Cris Panerio, spokesperson of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG). This group is a network of farmers and scientists that promotes agroecology and is a member of Stop Golden Rice Network.

“What we need is safe, sufficient food for all farmers,” Autor said.

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