Golden Rice and the push for GMOs won’t solve the food crisis, it will make it worse

Statement by the Stop Golden Rice Network Asia in line with the International Day of Action against Golden Rice

Seeds are being colonised by big corporates. Rice, until now, is not yet fully colonized by the seed industry with farmers retaining the ability to save and replant those seeds. Rice is also a key staple food in many Global South countries which are currently at the centre of today’s food price crisis.

As the world faces a worsening food crisis – the third in 15 years – various analyses point out that we face a food price crisis and not a shortage of food. Farmers around the world are grappling with a doubling and even tripling of prices for inputs, especially chemical fertilisers.. Consumers can’t afford the spiraling costs of food either, with global food prices rising by 33.5 percent for the past two years, and expected to increase even more this year.

While the number of hungry people across the globe has almost doubled in the past two years, multinational food and agriculture corporations have at the same time reaped in billions of dollars of ballooning profits. Billionaires involved in the food and agribusiness sector have seen their wealth increase by US$ 382 billion (45%) over the past two years–an indication of how multinational corporations are exploiting and directly benefiting from the crisis.

Among those corporations areSyngenta, which received US$ 8.9 billion profit – a 26 percent increase – in the first quarter of 2022. Syngenta owns the license of technology used to develop Golden Rice.

The commercialization of Golden Rice in the Philippines and the promotion and de-regulation of GMOs, including gene-edited crops, across the globe during a period of intense food crisis does not bode well. It threatens to exacerbate inequality and contribute further to the loss of people’s food sovereignty–one of the main reasons why hundreds of millions remain food insecure, despite supposed “advances” in plant technology.

Proponents of Golden Rice said that farmers would be able to grow them without additional inputs. But Philippine’s farmers-scientists group MASIPAG found from their conversation with farmers on one of the identified pilot-deployment sites of Golden Rice that besides the GM rice seeds that are given to the farmers, they were also promised with fertilizers and inputs, such as chemical herbicides to sustain its cultivation. This opens up another possibility of introgression of herbicide-tolerant traits to Golden Rice, potentially making it more hazardous and may also burden farmers with increased costs of production.

The past two decades have already proven the adverse impacts of GM crops on farmers. In countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and India increasing prices of GM seeds and the dramatic decline of farmers’ income have driven rural families deeper into indebtedness, caused contamination of traditional varieties, and led to adverse health impacts.

The Stop Golden Rice Network is alarmed at how the commercialisation of Golden Rice could contaminate and further erode the rich diversity of rice in many Asian countries. Field trials that have been conducted so far have only looked at the agronomic traits of Golden Rice, and not its long-term effects on the environment, including its possible effects on the genetic diversity of the thousands of rice varieties being cared for by small scale farmers and indigenous peoples. While rice is a self-pollinating crop, cross-contamination is still inevitable. Contamination can also occur through seed mixing.

The vast diversity of local rice varieties in Asia has already suffered a lot from the Green Revolution that was propelled by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other institutions heavily influenced and funded by big corporations. These same institutions are now developing and pushing for commercialization of this GM rice in several Asian countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia, under the neo-colonial mantra of fighting hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. However, various studies have proven that Golden Rice contains negligible amounts of beta-carotene, making it useless to even become a supplementary solution to Vitamin A deficiency. The development of genetically modified crops like Golden Rice for solving health issues represents a worrisome push for top-down, reductionist, and anti-diversity approaches to food and health that will ultimately undermine people’s capacities to strengthen their local food systems. By emphasizing dependence on just a few market-based crops, biofortification actually promotes a poor diet with little nutritional diversity. It does not solve the issue of hunger or malnutrition but rather makes it worse.

Furthermore, the disrupted, shifting and extreme weather patterns as a result of climate change are already making food production more complicated and difficult. There’s a need for more diversified crops and seeds to withstand the impacts of climate change on food supply. Golden Rice will have adverse implications on environment, ecology, equity and justice. Farmers in specific countries of the European Union are rejecting the “The Great Reset” and other forms of industrial agriculture simply because they have been victims of similar implications.

As it has happened in the past with the Green Revolution, the corporate interests behind Golden Rice and other GM crops are promoting products designed to wrestle control of land, food and agriculture out of people’s hands. We must see them for what they are: profitable products being disguised as panaceas for so many of humanity’s problems: hunger, climate change, poverty, malnutrition and more. For farmers, preserving, sustaining, and advancing traditional knowledge and farmers’ wisdom; developing, multiplying, and freely sharing their own seeds; and fighting for control over their lands and resources remain at the core of their struggle against GMOs and against corporate and imperialist control that is responsible for inequality and the destruction of our food systems.

SGRN, with the support of rice farmers across Asia, rejects Golden Rice and is committed to exposing the real business strategies behind its promotion. It calls on regulators to stick to science and verification processes of approval. Farmers cannot forego their right to protect natural germplasm and seed sovereignty.

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