Filipino people’s pushback to corporations, brings Golden Rice battle to court

October 17, 2022, Manila | Various farmers organizations, scientists and civil society leaders spearheaded the filing of the People’s Petition for Writ of Kalikasan and Continuing Mandamus to the Supreme Court to stop the commercial propagation of Golden Rice and BT Eggplant, both genetically modified crops intended for direct consumption of the Filipino people.

The petition sought to stop the commercial propagation of both Golden Rice and BT Eggplant as the government approved the genetically modified crops’ biosafety permits despite risks of adverse, irreversible and nationwide damage to the environment, rice and eggplant biodiversity, and people’s health and despite non-compliance with the requirements of the rule/regulation that govern biosafety permits and activities at the time of their issuances and conduct. Amid a food crisis characterized by food price hikes, lack of infrastructures, depressed wages, and introduction of false solutions, this technology will only worsen the food situation in our country.

In hindsight, Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice which sought to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) by having beta-carotene content in its grains. While being funded and developed by various foreign institutions, it is currently patented to Syngenta, a transnational agro corporation that recently merged with Chemchina.

On the other hand, Bt Eggplant is a genetically modified crop owned by Monsanto and Bayer. Bt Eggplant was developed to produce its own toxin to kill the Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) which is one of several common pests that damages eggplants. In 2015, the Supreme Court permanently banned the field testing of Bt Eggplant due to prevalence of evidence that the release of GMOs into the environment threatens to damage the ecosystems and eventually the health of the Filipino people once the Bt eggplants are consumed as food. Along with transnational agro corporate giant Corteva, Bayer-Monsanto and Syngenta-Chemchina cornered about 47% of the commercial seed sales in 2020.

While the Supreme Court rendered another decision last 2016 dismissing the permanent ban on Bt Talong due to the “expiration of its biosafety permits”, the Supreme Court however never overturned its findings in its 2015 decision that Bt Eggplant is hazardous to health and environment.

“As an organic rice breeder and farmer practicing crop diversification as a means to work with nature while providing food to the community, I do not want Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant to contaminate my native and farmer-saved seeds. We farmers have been long affected by these genetically modified crops as it affects crop diversity, disrupts the balance of nature and pushes farmers further to bankruptcy. But by commercializing these GM crops, this will further distract the nation and the farmers’ aspiration to become self-reliant and self-sufficient in food. So tell me, what is the use of Golden Rice if we already have crops that are naturally rich in beta carotene? Once Golden Rice and Bt eggplant contaminate our crops, what will happen to us organic farmers and those who have had enough of GM crops because of its negative impacts?” said petitioner and MASIPAG farmer Lauro Diego.

Nine years ago, more than 400 farmers, consumers and development workers decisively uprooted the third and secret Golden Rice field trial in the Regional Field Unit of the Department of Agriculture in Bicol region. The protest action reverberated across the globe, as it crystallized the peoples’ resistance and opposition against the corporate-driven Golden Rice. It effectively halted the planned commercialization in 2013, until a new application was submitted in 2017.

“As a crop scientist, I am also concerned about cross-pollination of GM and non-GM crops. Some parts of our country are very windy. Such natural characteristics of the Philippines increases the travel of pollens which in turn increases the chance of Golden Rice reaching our remote farmers and rice terraces and outcrossing with our landraces and heirloom rice varieties. Seed mixing and other accidents may also lead to contamination. The effect of the outcrossing and/or contamination by mixing and accidents may be irreversible and our landraces and heirloom varieties may be gone forever” said crop scientist and petitioner Dr. Teodoro Mendoza

Towards Golden Rice’s 30 years of development, various scientific and legal studies across the world have found that Golden Rice possesses negligible beta carotene content therefore being unable to actually give the Vitamin A it promises. Moreover, no meaningful safety tests have been done whereas possible allergens of Golden Rice were only made using proxy databases and no feeding tests nor toxicological testings were done.

On Golden Rice’s claim to solve Vitamin A deficiency, Dr. Gene Nisperos, faculty member at the College of Medicine University of the Philippines Manila said that “proponents of Golden Rice have made therapeutic claims that it will address VAD, however, they have shown no human studies to corroborate such claims. There are no randomized control trials or longitudinal studies that show the accumulated effects of continuously consuming Golden Rice over an extended period of time.”

“If Golden Rice has therapeutic claims, its proponents should also provide rigorous proof of safety as an unmitigated accumulation of vitamin A may lead to toxicities that have adverse effects on specific organs. Unless proponents show such studies, Golden Rice should be immediately stopped, and that further independent studies on health risks and assessments are warranted” Dr. Nisperos ended.

“Our expert scientists and doctors who have the conscience to side with the Filipino people have already shown us the science on why Golden Rice is a failed and dangerous technology both in our health and environment yet its proponents remain blind in the corporate’s push in our land and our plates in the name of profit.” said Alfie Pulumbarit, lead petitioner and national coordinator of MASIPAG.

“MASIPAG, with other peasant farmer organizations, scientists and civil society organizations, has been engaged in a long uphill battle against Golden Rice. Time and time again, the Department of Agriculture and other government institutions have sided with these agri-TNCs like Syngenta and Monsanto who have the gall to pose as the world’s saviors in hunger and malnutrition. In return, these same corporations have been reeking billions in profit by corporatizing hunger and monopolizing our agriculture and food system” declared by Pulumbarit.

With the filing for the petition for Writ of Kalikasan and Continuing Mandamus to the Supreme Court to stop the commercial propagation of Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant coinciding with World ‘Hunger’ Day, the Filipino people reiterates that Golden Rice, Bt Eggplant and the push for GMOs won’t solve food crisis, it will make it worse.

“Our country’s vast diversity of local rice varieties has already suffered a lot from the prime movers of world hunger that started during the Green Revolution in the 60s spearheaded by Golden Rice’s main proponent; the International Rice Research Institution (IRRI). Now, IRRI and its collaborators are desperate in pushing for the commercialization of Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant in the Philippines in the guise of fighting hunger and malnutrition.” said Virginia Nazareno, MASIPAG chairwoman and one of the farmer petitioners.

“By emphasizing dependence on just a few market-based GMO crops such as Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant, it actually promotes a poor diet with little nutritional diversity. It does not solve the issue of hunger or malnutrition but rather makes it worse” Narzareno added.

“While our legal action is to indeed stop the commercial propagation of Golden Rice and BT Eggplant, the action that we have enacted today is also the cry of the Filipino People who already had enough with profit-oriented, unjust, unhealthy and destructive agriculture and food systems.” declared by Nazareno.

Petitioners appeal to the high court to side with the Filipino people today in forwarding just, accessible, safe and nutritious food for all that both Golden Rice and BT Eggplant will never be able to provide. Today, let it be known that what connotes the hunger in World Hunger day is the hunger of the Filipino people to change for a farmer-led agriculture and pro-masses food systems.###

Petitioners include farmer-led network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives (CCNCI), Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns (SALINLAHI), and individuals including ormer defense secretary and senator Orlando Mercado, crop scientist Dr Teodoro Mendoza, University of the Philippines Manila professor and spokesperson of Samahan at Ugnayan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan Reggie Vallejos, social critic and concerned citizen Mae Paner, human rights advocate, and former Commissioner of the National anti-Poverty Commission Liza Maza, farmers Virginia Nazareno, Jocelyn Jamandron, and rice breeder Lauro Diego.

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