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THE NEED FOR AN INTENSIFIED, GLOBAL OPPOSITION AGAINST GOLDEN RICE (from the proceedings of “Defend Our Rice, Fight for Our Rights! Asian Farmers Conference on Golden Rice Commercialization”)

Dr Chito Medina highlighted the myths around GMOs and the need for an intensified global opposition against GR. The myths include:

1. GMOs are safe, precise and predictable.

2. GMOs increase the yield to feed the world. 3. GMOs are cheaper and provide more profit. 4. GMOs require less pesticides.

5. GMOs can co-exist with organic crops.

GMOs are likened to a hydra; you cut one tentacle, others will grow again. The GM proponents are looking for a country to grow it and will use the country as a justification in spreading it to other countries. Dr Medina stressed that it is a common responsibility to monitor and stop these GMOs.

Dr Medina focused on Vitamin A rice, which he described is an issue that has more questions than answers:

The Vitamin A rice is not characterized in terms of basic molecular genetics of biological or biochemical properties, not tested pre-clinically to animals based on protocols, nor subjected to any other safety assessments. What they had done in the Philippines was field testing whether the GM rice can grow well and if it can have a high level of beta-carotene; it was not about safety or the ill effects of consumption by the people. 

Dr Medina said that there are about 600 carotenoids responsible for the yellow-orange color but at least 60 can be precursors to retinoids, which can be toxic. There have been studies in 2012 that some carotenoids can act as anti-nu- trients which prevent the body from absorbing the beta-carotene precursor. Overdose of beta-carotene is also indicated in increased lung cancer.

Seed mixing is the bigger problem. It was experienced in the US in 1999-2000, when Liberty Link 601 (LL601) was stopped but showed contamination in long-grain rice exported to Europe and parts of Asia. It was solid evidence that there is escape of GM traits into non-GM plants. In June of last year, a documented contamination of wheat glyphosate-resistance from field testing in 1998 to 2005 was also detected in 2013 in Oregon and Ohio.

A lot of questions remain unanswered, which include “What is the exact biochemical makeup of GR?”, “How much carotene in GR degrades during storage?”, “How much beta carotene remains after cooking?”, and “How well can GR be utilized by the body?”

The proponents are projecting that in the Philippines, there is a model biosafety protocol when in fact it does not reach a quarter of biosafety evaluations and parameters.

To summarize, there are so many unanswered questions about the efficacy and safety of Golden Rice. Viable al- ternatives, practical and cheap, are available to combat VAD, and problems of VAD have largely been solved by VA supplementation and food fortification. Dr Medina referred to the presentation made by Budianto of Indonesia, who said that if there is land for the people, they can till their land and plant their food, and the farmers will have available food to eat and have no VAD.

GR has multi-dimensional aspects that have to be considered. Dr Medina also stressed the other aspects including political economy, socio-economic impacts, environmental aspects, and health effects.

“This is rice which is a staple food for 60% of the population of the whole world. It should be the last to be modi- fied if there is a need to modify it because it is staple food, it is culture, it is health, it is everything for us”, Dr Medina elaborated.

Dr Medina summarized the presentations, and stressed that GMOs are not about eradicating hunger or VAD, or feeding children. Golden Rice and GMOs are about feeding corporate interests. Nothing more, nothing less.

Dr Medina stressed that we have to make the TNCs, the proponents and allies accountable to humanity for con- taminating food systems, distorting truth, and for pushing a technology that is not acceptable and safe. The ‘Allow Golden Rice now’ campaign by pro-GMO lobbyists is active in Europe. Now is the right time to stop GR. If we don’t stop GR, no one will stop it for us; if not now, it will be too late.

Dr Medina pointed out that we need an alliance for networking and cooperation to support one another. Local struggles and initiatives are the best, as shown by the experience of many countries here. Dr Medina stated that we should explore how to strengthen and intensify the collaboration so that there is more helping one another when we come face to face with giant biotech corporations. He stated the need for an alliance for networking and cooperation to support local initiatives to stop Golden Rice, stop the lies of pro-GM lobbyists, and establish a more diverse food system supported by genuine agrarian reform towards a biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. With that, we can move towards genuine food security and food sovereignty, Chito said.