Consumers, lawyers question safety and health claims of DA on GM Yellow Rice, call to take action
Last December 1, the Stop Golden Rice! Network – Philippines held “Beyond the GM Yellow Rice: the JDC and Consumer Rights,” the second webinar in a series entitled “Sari-Sari: Consumers Against GM Yellow Rice”. The series aims to create spaces for discussion on Golden Rice, or GM Yellow Rice, and GMOs, enable different stakeholders to be included in the discourse and encourage consumers to take action. The activity was facilitated by Mabi David from Good Food Community and Cid Manalo from Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE).
Atty. Joya Doctor, a former policy officer of SEARICE representing the country in the convention of the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and currently Municipal Trial Court in the Cities – Bohol (MTCC-Bohol) Judge, discussed the “Golden Rice as a Trojan Horse: The Implications of Joint Department Circular (JDC) 2021 Revisions”. Atty. Doctor describes the entry of GM Yellow Rice as a Trojan Horse, a reference from the Trojan War story from Greek Mythology wherein Greeks disguised an attack in the form of a gift wooden horse to the people of Troy. Atty. Doctor expects the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) GM Yellow Rice to bring damages while disguising itself as a solution to Vitamin A deficiency.
The push and propagation of living modified organisms have already negatively impacted the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity by indigenous and local communities. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, in one of its provisions, already recognized this risk but the JDC, in its 2016 and recent version, lacks this consideration. According to Atty. Joya, the JDC is violative of local laws. In particular, the JDC lacks the provisions requiring prior and informed consent and consultation of indigenous and local communities in conducting studies on the effects of genetically modified organisms on local knowledge and biodiversity. This violates the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).
Atty. Doctor also pointed out inconsistencies in the nature of policies and programs on rice by the DA. Several local government units (LGUs) have already established GMO-free zones and just recently, the government has also signed into law the Republic Act 11511 or the Amendments to the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010. This act establishes organic agriculture areas where GM crops are not allowed to be planted. The DA also gave Php 9.47 million last August to put up an heirloom rice project in Kalinga, Apayao to promote local varieties of rice. GM Yellow Rice also ignores local food preferences. In 2005, Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board issued a fatwa (religious order) declaring that GMOs are Mashbooh or foods which are best to be avoided. Atty. Doctor then asked “How will the contamination affect the organic agriculture practitioner, the GMO-free zones that choose not to engage or cultivate this GMO, and to those who rely on their faith not to take Mashbooh which GMO was categorized? Hindi kasi nakalagay ang socio-economic consideration (…sa JDC).”
Atty. Doctor also pointed out the lack of provisions on consumer preference in both versions of the JDC. “Positive traits of GM rice had no effect on consumer acceptance. Studies in China states that consumers will consume GM Rice only when it’s free,” said Atty. Doctor. GM Yellow Rice is expected also to be rejected by farmers. Atty. Doctor cited studies by Glenn Davis Stone on Golden Rice’s adoption by consumers and farmers. According to stone, the Philippines “has managed to cut its childhood VAD rate in half with conventional nutrition programs. If Golden Rice appears on the market in the Philippines by 2022, it will have taken over 30 years of development to create a product that may not affect vitamin levels in its target population.”
In addition, Atty. Doctor asked “With respect to the liability and redress, Who’s going to pay for damages, for enforcing the consumption of Golden Rice? Because apparently, it’s already something being promoted. Unwillingly, you eat GR and you have damages, who is going to pay? The chairman? The scientist? The PhilRice? Ang problema, the JDC don’t provide the traceability, how will they be noticed that there is contamination? There’s no liability and redress or penalties on the JDC. There’s nothing on “labeling” so the consumers are informed of choice. And there is no independent assessment”. Atty. Doctor compared the JDC 2021 to the policy of the European Union on GMOs which recognizes the importance of having provisions on the respect of ethical principles, protection of consumer interest, GMO’s traceability, labeling, and penalties.
Atty. Doctor ended her discussion with ways on how we can participate to oppose GM Yellow Rice. In particular, consumers may demand the inclusion of socio-economic and cultural considerations in risk assessment of GMOs, genuine public participation, and enable LGUs to conduct public consultations on the release of GM Yellow Rice in their communities, and the inclusion of liability and redress provisions. Atty. Doctor said that consumers may call for a congressional, senate, or LGU-led investigation on the commercial release of GM Yellow Rice.
Atty. Elpidio Peria, former program specialist and current technical consultant of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, discussed consumer rights in the context of GM Yellow Rice’s approval for commercial propagation and impending consumption. Atty. Peria started by citing the eight basic rights of consumers to safety, basic needs, healthy environment, consumer education, representation, information, choice, and redress as stipulated in the Republic Act 7394 or The Consumer Act of the Philippines.
Specific provisions in the law pertaining to consumer product standards on rice, adulterated food, the addition of unsafe food additives, deceptive sale by concealment, false representation, or fraudulent manipulation, warranty, and minimum labeling standards, according to Atty. Peria, may be used by consumers to help legally challenge health and nutrition claims of products and in particular, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) GM Yellow Rice. Moreover, Atty. Peria cited provisions from the Food Safety Act which consumers can use with regards to food which are “unsafe” and “injurious to health”.
One of the DA’s bases in pushing GM Yellow Rice comes from its approval in New Zealand and Canada. Both of these countries are not primarily rice-eating countries. Atty. Peria questioned this and the use of Codex Alimentarius alone by the DA in assuring its safety while completely putting aside the standards relevant to the Filipino peoples, especially when cultures and environment in countries where GM Yellow Rice has been approved are completely different. Atty. Peria said that using the approval from these countries in claiming that GM Yellow Rice is safe for Filipinos counts as false advertising. Furthermore, since the data originated from different jurisdictions, it is insufficient. With this, Atty. Peria said that proponents should lean towards precaution. Atty. Peria then asked the audience “Does the DA take the consumer seriously that it can implement consumer rights impartially and fairly? Does the consumer take the DA seriously? Do consumers care for their rights as consumers that they will take steps to clarify these questions?” Atty. Peria then showed a flowchart on how to file a complaint to the Department of Trade and Industry in the case that consumers decide to take legal action.
Estreleta “Ka Inday” Bagasbas from Save San Roque Alliance, stressed the demand of urban poor communities for safe, accessible, and nutritious food given the health threats brought by the pandemic. Ka Inday mentioned their organization has long opposed Golden Rice as it has no solid basis for its safety and called the government to shift its priority in investments from developing the GM Yellow Rice to supporting local farmers and providing the basic needs of the urban poor communities such as aid and housing. “Paano masisigurado na ligtas pala ito? Ligtas ba iyan?” Ka Inday asked. “Baka magkasakit kami dyan. Sino po ang sisisihin at papanagutin namin? Kung may pondo, ilaan po sa mga magsasaka upang ang mga magsasaka, sisipaging magtanim. Sa mga magsasaka, wala na ngang subsidyo at tulong mula sa gobyerno kaya lumilipat sa lungsod.” Ka Inday shared that her parents are farmers and on their farm, they were sure that their rice is safe to eat until they were forced to migrate to the city where most rice options are imported and rot quickly. “Nababahala kami sa lungsod kasi minsan ang imported na bigas pag sinaing, wala pang kalahating oras, panis na at mahal pa.” Ka Inday said. “Kami pong mga maralita ay hindi po hayop na pakainin kami ng kung anu-anong bigas. Gusto po namin ay sariling ani mula sa ating mga magsasaka.” Ka Inday ended.
Vigie Benosa-Llorin, a concerned mother and an environmental campaigner, raised her concerns about the safety of GM Yellow Rice. “Tayong mga nanay, gusto nating mapangalagaan ang kalusugan ng ating pamilya.” Vigie said. With the GM Yellow Rice approved for commercial propagation, Vigie asked “what do we do about this?” As an environmental campaigner, Vigie took part in dialogues and raised concerns in relevant government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Health. Despite studies warning about the risks of GM Yellow Rice and debunking its health claims, proponents are steadfast in pushing for its propagation. “Proponents do it because it’s all about business,” Vigie said. “Pag ito nagtuluy-tuloy, iisipin ng mga tao, especially people na walang time na manaliksik, papaniwalaan na kapag kumain ka, wala nang problema sa nutrition.” Vigie added. “Paano nalang po kaming mga ordinaryong mamamayan?” Vigie asked proponents including DA and other government agencies.
Gino Yang, a concerned youth and member of TAYO, a company cultivating collaboration and innovation amongst people and building brands that go beyond profit for positive impact, and sustainable change, said after the discussions, “there are no clear advantages to Golden Rice”. Gino added that programs of this nature, enabled by certain policies, are “decided without an efficient and sustainable plan at the end of the road.” “As a member of the youth, it is very important that we are able to respect the heritage and methodologies that our forefathers have created even long before we were here on this Earth.” Gino said highlighting various locally-available solutions to different kind of nutrient deficiencies. “I feel like this is important because the youth today are very vocal. When we have things that we want to fight for, we will fight for them,” Gino added and ended by saying the debate surrounding GM Yellow Rice, aside from its economic and political impacts, is also about “maintaining our Filipino identity in an already westernized mentality that’s present in our culture.”
Janel Juaton, a youth organic farming practitioner from Davao, said that in the past, indigenous knowledge and traditions were completely erased through the introduction of seeds and technologies similar to GM Yellow Rice. Janel fears that GM Yellow Rice may cause the same effect as other GM crops did before. Given that rice is a staple food in the country, it will affect not only farmers but all Filipinos. “Di lang isa pero lahat apektado.” Janel said. “Ang pagpasa ng Golden Rice ay hindi pinag-isipan. Sa kanila, pera-pera lang.” Janel added. Furthermore, Janel cites that the DA hinders youth in realizing their potential in organic farming as DA supports chemical-intensive farming more than organic agriculture. Janel calls on his fellow youth to pursue and support organic farming in their own ways and develop more alternatives to nutrient deficiencies. “Maraming alternatibo sa golden rice sa Vitamin A deficiency. Yan ang dapat tutukan ng DA.” Janel ended.
The activity ended with a closing message by Alfie Pulumbarit, the Stop Golden Rice Network convenor.###
Watch the webinar here: https://www.facebook.com/SGRNAsia/videos/321163779835888
Watch the Sari-Sari Day 1 here: https://www.facebook.com/SGRNAsia/videos/469376477882443
Petition to revoke the biosafety permit for the commercial propagation of Golden Rice: https://www.change.org/p/stop-golden-rice/u/29416306…
For inquiries please contact:
Alfie Pulumbarit, SGRN Philippines lead convenor
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
For more information, kindly visit https://www.facebook.com/SGRNAsia