Slow Food Sari-sari, a coalition of concerned citizens working in solidarity with the urban poor’s right to safe and nutritious food given the growing incidence of hunger and poverty during the pandemic, denounces the recent approval of the commercialization of the genetically engineered Golden Rice.
Our Slow Food community of small farmers, urban poor growers, community organizers, food justice activists and advocates, and youth volunteers calls for the Department of Agriculture to instead prioritize agroecological and biodiverse food production, and sustainable and equitable access to safe and affordable nutrient-dense food as the main strategy to address the problem of hunger and malnutrition in the country.
More than an ecological practice, agroecology recognizes and addresses the social, political, cultural and economic challenges that promote the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in vulnerable sectors such as the urban poor.
As a genetically engineered product designed to address Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), Golden Rice is a threat to people’s access to good, clean, and fair food, especially the poor who are considered among the most vulnerable to VAD given their lack of access to healthy and nutritious food.
The recent approval for the GM rice’s commercial release took place despite lacking in independent and publicly available risk assessments on its impacts on health when consumed regularly over long periods. The current version of this engineered product called GR2E actually contains a very negligible amount of beta-carotene (from 3.57 ug/g to 22 ug/g) in contrast to the rich, natural, and affordable sources of Vitamin A present in every local palengke and backyards such as malunggay, yellow kamote, squash, carrots, talbos and other dark leafy greens, among many others. The GM rice’s beta carotene content is also found to degrade after harvesting, during storage, and during cooking, and therefore it requires vacuum-packing and refrigeration, which is not a standard practice in the country, practically guaranteeing low beta carotene content.
Despite such substandard results, the genetically modified rice has been approved for commercial release, and is now being positioned by PhilRice as “Healthier Rice”—a reckless claim that should be called out by both farmers and consumers as a flat-out falsehood. Little is still known and understood about the long-term health effects of daily consumption of GMOs, given that the majority of GMO crops in the world are in fact not used for human consumption, but rather for biofuels, animal feed, and textiles. Given that rice is a staple food for Filipinos, which we consume three times a day, we ask for more independent research and demand that third-party health risk assessments be conducted and shared transparently with the public, rather than those funded by its funders and proponents, which casts doubt on the quality and bias of the data.
As a genetically modified product, this type of rice is also very dependent on the use of agroechemicals and advances intensive agriculture and monocrops. This agriculture system that GMOs promote is known to harm the planet by contributing to climate change, polluting landscapes and water resources, degrading soil health, while also exposing farmers and communities to toxic chemicals that cause cancer and other grave illnesses.
GM-rice production also threatens our rice biodiversity that is at heart of Filipino cultural, social, and economic activities. Philippine history and identity is tied to rice. Our food sovereignty, our ability to feed our nation is tied to growing and producing rice that is safe, sufficient, and culturally appropriate for all. Asia is home to more than 100,000 rice varieties, 4,000 of which are in the Philippines, and they have been bred by small farmers throughout the centuries to be resilient to different conditions such as droughts, floods, salt water, etc, and reflect the diverse cultures and lifeways of the different communities that grow them. Studies in China have also shown that contamination can occur from GM rice to wild rice and cultivated rice seed supply, while studies in India have shown the stunting of the Swarna rice variety and called unfit for commercial cultivation. Such contamination can affect the livelihood of millions of small rice farmers in Asia, including Filipino farmers who are already reeling from the impacts of the Rice Liberalization Law.
Finally, because GM products like Golden Rice are patented, this recent approval for its commercialization hastens the corporate control of our food and further undermines our food sovereignty. By patenting rice as the property of big agrochemical corporations like ChemChina and Syngenta, and tying their production to chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, the Filipino nation stands to surrender its rich rice heritage and genetic material to very few corporations, concentrating the power to grow our staple food and and profit in their hands and stripping our farmers of their rights to free and diverse genetic resources, to safe, sufficient, and sustainable production methods, and to their economic well being.
Genetically modified foods undermine systemic and holistic efforts to address hunger and malnutrition.