Planned commercialization of golden rice hit-A A +A
Friday, March 15, 2013
CONSUMERS and farmers should be wary of buying golden rice in the future, a group said Friday, since it has yet to be established that the genetically-engineered grain is safe for human consumption and can be used to address Vitamin A deficiency.
In a press briefing, the Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochemical Transnational Corporations asked the public and candidates in the coming midterm elections to stop the plan of the Department of Agriculture to encourage farmers to plant golden rice, which is modified with genes from bacteria and corn to produce beta carotene.
Beta carotene is needed to create Vitamin A, which is important for good vision, immune system function, healthy skin, and even fertility. This carotenoid is also the reason behind the rice’s yellow-orange or gold color.
The group said the Golden Rice Project being undertaken by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) has already finished field testing (a process to check if the grain will produce high yield) in Camarines Sur, Ilocos, Isabela, and Nueva Ecija despite the lack of safety test.
"No safety test was done to first establish its potential for allergenicit or toxicity. Worse, to determine if Golden Rice will deliver Vitamin A, efficacy tests will be conducted among the Filipino people after Golden Rice is approved by government regulators," said Dr. Chito Medina, convenor of RESIST Agrochem TNCs.
Medina said he had conveyed this concern to his colleagues at the multi-sectoral National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB) but to no avail.
"They are attracted to the idea that GMO (genetically modified organism) is the new science. That is not correct," he told Sun.Star.
Also, Medina said the number of Filipinos with Vitamin A deficiency is decreasing, raising the question whether it is practical to buy golden rice at all.
According to state-run Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), the incidence of Vitamin A deficiency among children aged six months to five years decreased to 15.2 percent in 2008 from 40.1 percent in 2003. The same can be told about pregnant women (17.5 percent to 9.5 percent) and lactating women (20.1 percent to 6.4 percent).
Jhana Tejome, also a member of RESIST, said there are other sources of food rich not only in Vitamin A but other vitamins and minerals such as fruits and vegetables which are readily available.
The group, however, has no plans of raising the issue with the Supreme Court to stop the propagation of golden rice due to high litigation costs.
"We are more comfortable in presenting the issue to the public and lobbying with lawmakers to pass a law on bio-safety to determine, among others, the liability of groups/individuals on the use of GMOs," said Medina.
Data provided last year by environment group Greenpeace show that the Philippines has never rejected any GMO application, approving, since 2002, a total of 67 GMOs for importation, consumption and/or propagation. Most of these GMOs are approved as food for Filipinos.
Agriculture officials were not available for comment although Philrice assured on its website that golden rice will only be released if it has been "determined to be safe to humans, animals, and environment and authorized for commercial planting by the DA." (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)