Toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano said no safety testing, which includes laboratory feeding studies, has been conducted before the field testing commenced. “Problems have yet to be resolved such as sub-chronic and chronic health effects or allergenicity and toxicity.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Scientists, farmers and other advocates belied claims by proponents of golden rice that its field trials are safe.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in a statement posted on its website, said golden rice field trials have been permitted by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) after establishing that the trials will pose no significant risks to human health and the environment. The DA-BPI, the national regulatory authority in the Philippines for crop biotechnology research and development.
“They are liars,” Dr. Romeo Quijano, a leading toxicologist and president of Pesticide Action Network-Philippines (PAN-Philippines), told Bulatlat.com in an interview. “Historically, GMOs are not safe. The process of producing GMOs itself is poisonous.”
Golden rice is genetically modified rice with a gene from the maize plant and a soil bacterium (Erwinia uredovora) ,which forces the rice plant to artificially express beta-carotene.
Quijano said infectious viral pesticides used in GMO crops introduce new chemicals that can lead to allergies and new infectious diseases. “The disruption of gene ecology leads to new toxic substances that can cause various diseases including cancer,” he said.
Quijano further said the antibiotic resistance of gene construct of GMOs could affect humans. “This is very dangerous. Imagine patients being resistant to antibiotics.”
Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communications and partnerships at IRRI, vowed to continue field testing of golden rice after farmers in Bicol uprooted golden rice plants in Pili, Camarines Sur last August 8. “We all want to answer questions about Golden Rice,” Tolentino said. “Therefore, we need to test Golden Rice in accordance with the best and most rigorous research standards. This means continuing field trials to ensure there is adequate data and analysis that will enable informed decisions on Golden Rice.”
Quijano debunked this, saying that no safety testing, which includes laboratory feeding studies, has been conducted before the field testing commenced. “Problems have yet to be resolved such as sub-chronic and chronic health effects or allergenicity and toxicity. These may become a problem if Golden Rice field trials contaminate rice varieties. Yet, project proponents led by the Philrice and the IRRI are boasting of its harmlessness. After national regulators approve Golden Rice, they will then feed test it among targeted communities in the country to study its efficacy.”
Philrice stands for the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice).
Quijano added that there is no mechanism in place to monitor the dangers of golden rice field testing. “IRRI and other proponents of golden rice are guilty of “criminal irresponsibility,” he said.
Estrella Catarata, chairwoman of the Peoples Network on Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), expressed alarm that DA, Philrice and IRRI are declaring that Golden Rice is safe and that they are eyeing its commercial release. “This is a legitimate cause for alarm as rice is the staple food of Filipinos and it seems that the proponents have no qualms in endangering the lives of Filipino consumers,” Catarata said.
In the same vein, Lorie Beyer of Task Force for Indigenous People (TFIP) said: “If people get sick, if farmers go bankrupt, will the DA, Philrice and IRRI be held accountable? They continue to harp on the supposed benefits of the Golden Rice while turning a blind eye on the glaring fact that it poses a great threat to Filipino farmers and consumers.”
Beyer also feared that the country’s rice varieties, especially those being nurtured by indigenous peoples, could be contaminated by GMOs.
Farmers and consumer group Sikwal-GMO defended the uprooting of golden rice plants last August 8.
Bert Autor, spokesman of Sikwal-GMO said they held dialogues and discussions with the DA but all their efforts resulted to nothing. “In fact, we had a dialogue with DA RFU 5 (Regional Field Unit 5) officials in February where they promised, among others, to furnish us with the results of the Golden Rice field trials harvested in January, and that there will be no more field trials to be conducted in the experimental station. Clearly, they lied,” Autor said.
Wilfredo Marbella of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the uprooting of golden rice is “a legitimate direct action of sectors that stand to be affected if the field trials and the commercialization will push through.” “It is not a mere act of vandalism as being claimed by IRRI, DA and Philrice,” Marbella said.
Dr. Chito Medina, environmental scientist and national coordinator of Masipag, a network of farmers, scientists and development workers working for farmers’ rights and sustainable agriculture, said they have called on the DA and IRRI to stop the field testing of golden rice. “They have refused to heed the peoples’ call and instead chose to serve the interests of agribusiness transnational corporations.”
The groups belonging to Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST Agrochem TNCs!) condemned the DA RFU 5’s threat to file charges against identified personalities and organizations that joined the uprooting.
“Amidst the pork barrel scam where the DA has been linked to the laundering of billions of taxpayers’ money, the DA has the audacity to file a case against its constituents who only want to ensure safe agricultural technologies and transparent processes. If they will file a case against these farmers, not only will it unmask the DA’s callousness and insensitivity to legitimate farmers’ issues, but it will also serve to bring the debate to the public’s consciousness. It will also show that the DA, Philrice and IRRI have been trying to deceive us for a long time” Marbella said.