Behind its proponents’ hype that it is a high-tech, quick-fix solution to Vitamin A deficiency, the genetically engineered (GE) “Golden Rice” is environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security, Greenpeace International has declared.
Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to protect and conserve the environment and promote peace by way of exposing environmental criminals and challenging government and corporations when they fail to live up to their mandate to safeguard the environment and the human race’s future.
In a statement reaching Legazpi city Monday, the organization said it opposes the release of Golden Rice into the environment as this crop is prone to unexpected effects which can pose a risk to environmental and food safety.
Golden Rice has long been a poster child for the GE crop industry in an attempt to gain acceptance worldwide, it said.
Its leading proponent in the Philippines is the Philippine Rice Institute, a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture, to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.
In a recent seminar on rice and nutrition held in Legazpi for the local media, PhilRice’s Golden Rice project leader Dr. Antonio Alfonso, who is also coordinator of the DA’s Biotechnology Program, said the Institute is already in the final stages of research and evaluation of this genetically modified rice variety which is targeted to be available in the local market by 2015.
Alfonso said VAD remains a serious public health concern in the Philippines, affecting approximately 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women many of whom are living in far-flung areas.
Rice is staple food for most Filipinos and Golden Rice is a sustainable response to VAD that would be more accessible than Vitamin A supplements in remote areas, Alfonso said, assuring that it is safe to eat, affordable and growing it will not cause adverse effects on rice fields.
However, Greenpeace said using GE crops to try to solve problems of malnutrition is simply the wrong approach and a risky distraction away from real solutions.
Golden rice does not address the underlying causes of VAD, which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a healthy and varied diet, it said, stressing that it is a technological fix that may generate new problems.
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For example, Greenpeace said, the single-crop approach of Golden Rice could make malnutrition worse because it encourages a diet based solely on rice, rather than increasing access to a diverse diet of fruits and vegetables, considered crucial to combating VAD and other nutrient deficiencies.
Rice can become contaminated with GE rice, even just from field trials, such as what happened in the United States and China.
If cross-pollination or seed mix-up causes Golden Rice contamination, it could prove difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate, and despite all the hype surrounding this variety, it still remains unproven whether daily consumption would actually improve the Vitamin A status of people who are deficient, Greenpeace said.
In the case of the Philippines, it said, the diversity of rice is a valuable resource for developing new varieties with improved yields and can withstand diseases and environmental conditions without compromising human health and the environment.
However, this resource is now being threatened by plans to release and commercialize Golden Rice in the country even as more than 60 countries have imposed moratorium or outright ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to adopt the precautionary principle.
The problem with the Philippines is that it does not have a biosafety law nor the capacity and resources to conduct robust risk assessments for GMOs intended for field testing, food, feed and propagation.
Any deliberate release of Golden Rice can contaminate conventional crops.
This also means that the more than 80 GMOs allowed for importation for food, feed and processing and eight GMO corn varieties allowed for commercial propagation in the country actually challenge the integrity of the 2010 National Organic Agriculture Act.
Covered by expensive patents, Golden Rice and other GMOs can deprive farmer’s access, control and stewardship over plant genetic resources which have been nurtured, exchanged and shared across communities for generations.
Besides, Greenpeace said, the incidence of VAD in the Philippines has been significantly reduced to 15 percent for children as of 2008 and there are already solutions in place to address this health problem and other micronutrient deficiencies.
The funds that are being wasted on Golden Rice research and development should instead be used on solutions that are already working, which include fortification of foods and Vitamin A supplementation capsules.
Having a diverse diet is still the best solution to VAD, Greenpeace added.