Farmers, scientists and advocates believe that golden rice is but a “simplistic, techno-fix solution” to the prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency and there are other sustainable measures that have no negative impact on human health and the environment.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farmers, scientists and advocates refuse to believe that golden rice would solve the problem of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in the country.
Proponents of golden rice claim that the genetically modified rice is the solution to Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness among children. It also impairs the immune system. Golden rice contains a gene from the maize plant and a soil bacterium (Erwinia uredovora), which forces the rice plant to artificially express beta-carotene, thus the claim to solve the deficiency.
Groups belonging to Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST Agrochem TNCs!) said the seemingly good objective is just being used to make golden rice and other genetically-modified organisms (GMO) acceptable.
Dr. Chito Medina, environmental scientist and national coordinator of Masipag, a network of farmers, scientists and development workers advocating for farmers’ rights and sustainable agriculture, said VAD and malnutrition are complex issues that are inextricably linked to poverty and access to resources and that VAD is but a symptom of this complex issue. Medina said golden rice is “but a simplistic, techno-fix solution to the problem.”
Shen Maglinte of the Well-spring of Science and Technology (Sibat) agreed, saying: “Not all modern technology in agriculture is appropriate and beneficial to poor farmers.”
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap questioned the process by which Golden Rice will supposedly deliver on its promise of eradicating VAD in the country. “We believe that golden rice will not address the problem of VAD. IRRI [International Rice Research Institute] contradicts itself by proposing a solution that would purportedly save the government some money by doing away with ‘expensive’ Vitamin A supplementation; but on the other hand, it does not guarantee that golden rice alone will address VAD. This means the government and eventually the taxpayers, will still have to spend money on supplementation, and consumers will still have to buy golden rice.”
The government’s Vitamin A ‘patak’ program has lowered Vitamin A Deficiency in recent years.
According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology, the prevalence of VAD among children declined from 40.1 percent in 2003 to 15.2 percent in 2008. http://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph/images/stories/7thNNS/biochemical/biochemical_vad.pdf
“So why bet on something that is not proven to solve VAD, and then risk the lives and livelihood of Filipinos?” Hicap asked.
Wilfredo Marbella, deputy secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that IRRI and agrochemical transnational corporation Syngenta are “hell-bent in pushing for the golden rice to gain super-profits and control over agriculture.” “They look at Golden Rice as a product that will enable it to control the market,” Marbella said.
Syngenta is a large global chemical company, which markets seeds and pesticides and is also involved in biotechnology and genomic research. The company ranked third in total seeds & biotech sales in 2009. Sales in 2010 were approximately $ 11.6 billion. Syngenta is listed in both the Swiss and New York stock exchanges.
The KMP leader added that golden rice would pave the way for the control of transnational corporations (TNCs) on agriculture and food by patenting seeds and varieties.
Safer, healthier solutions to VAD
Dr. Romeo Quijano, a leading toxicologist and president of Pesticide Action Network Philippines (PAN-Philippines) said there are various sustainable measures to address malnutrition problems such as VAD that has no severe impact on human health and the environment. Quijano cited the ‘patak’ programs that resulted in a decline in VAD incidences.
Medina said long-term programs such as diversification of farms with Vitamin A-rich plants and increasing availability and access to other food sources are better ways to help alleviate VAD cases. He said vegetables, fruits and food crops containing beta carotene are abundant in the Philippines. Among these are spinach, sweet potato, carrots, papaya, mango and melon.
“We do not need golden rice in our fields, and especially not on our plates. Farmers and consumers will continue to unite against any threats to our health and environment, and we will continue to push for a more sustainable farming and food systems to address malnutrition issues” Medina said.