Golden Rice is GMO; stop field testing, gov’t urged

By
November 12 2012

The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko pasa sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), in a statement released to the media, said the Golden Rice is “genetically modified” as it is “artificially inserted” with genes from the bacteria Erwinia uredovora and corn so it can produce beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.

By ALEX D. LOPEZ
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A group of peasants and scientists is calling on authorities for the immediate termination of field trials of the Golden Rice at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) saying this might be the final phase of field testing before its commercialization next year.

The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko pasa sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), in a statement released to the media, said the Golden Rice is “genetically modified” as it is “artificially inserted” with genes from the bacteria Erwinia uredovora and corn so it can produce beta carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.

The Golden Rice, according to Masipag, is currently under field testing in Ilocos Norte, Nueva Ecija and Camarines Sur.  Come 2013, it is targeted for commercial use.

Masipag called on Agriculture Secretary Proseso Alcala to immediately cancel the Golden Rice field trial permits and direct the Philrice to “stop the project.”

“Hunger cannot be solved by simplistic, techno-fix means.   Hunger is caused by widespread landlessness, displacement and exploitation of the foreign and giant corporations such as Syngenta and Monsanto,” Masipag said.

Syngenta, an agrochemical giant, owns the Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is being experimented by the Philippine government to curb Vitamin A deficiency among Filipinos, especially children.

According to studies, Vitamin A deficiency is the primary cause of night blindness especially among children which would lead to complete blindness if left untreated.  Experts said the lack of this nutrient could also worsen diseases like diarrhea and measles.

But Masipag pointed out that cases of Vitamin A deficiency (Vad) in the country have declined.

It quoted data from the National Nutrition Council that says children suffering from Vad have already declined by 22.8 percent or from 38 percent in 1998 to only 15.2 percent cases in 2008.  The same is true with pregnant (9.5 percent) and lactating mothers (6.4 percent)

The group also said that humans face potential risks to diets high in beta carotene.  It quoted results of the study made by the researchers in Ohio State University, saying, “certain molecules that derive from beta carotene have an opposite effect in the body.” Too much consumption of beta carotene, the research noted, has a dark side.

The research said that because “these molecules derive from beta carotene, it’s predicted that a large amount of this antioxidant is accompanied by a large amount of these anti-Vitamin A molecules, as well.”

Ohio researchers also said high diet of beta carotene explains why in a decades-old clinical trial, more people who are heavily supplemented with beta carotene ended up with lung cancer than those who took no beta carotene at all.

The study might have an implication on the effort to biologically-engineered staple crops.

“A concern is that if you engineer these crops to have unusually high levels of beta carotene, they might also have high levels of these compounds,” said Earl Harrison, Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Human Nutrition at the Ohio State and the lead author of the study.

Doctor Chito Medina, the national coordinator of Masipag, said efficacy tests on golden rice produce negative results in Hunan province in China in 2008.

According to Medina, China’s test was alarming “because children were subjected to Golden Rice feed test which is yet to be approved for human consumption.  No safety test was done to first establish its potential for allergenicity, toxicity or the anti-nutritive properties of too much beta carotene consumption.”

Medina is worried of the worst scenario to come when “safety test will be conducted among the Filipino people only after Golden Rice is approved for commercialization.”

He said that apart from potential toxicity because of too much beta-carotene consumption, genetically-modified organisms (GMO) such as Golden Rice may pose other health risk.

“We need to be extra careful in dealing with GMOs, as scientific data from independent scientist have reported unintended compositional alterations associated with genetic transformations,” Medina said.

He noted a recent study done by Professor Seralini based in France which linked genetically-modified Maize (corn) and Roundup (herbicide) to premature death and cancer on rats.  Once released, it would be impossible to recall GMOs.

“Ultimately, it is the consumers who will be affected by this field testing.” Medina pointed out.

Golden Rice: a bait

Meanwhile, farmer Basilio Prado from Nueva Ecija said Golden Rice is “a bait to entice farmers and consumers to accept genetically-modified organisms.”

He added, in the same statement, “These agrochemical corporations are raking in billions of profits from sales of patented seeds.”

Prado added that privatization of seeds through parenting “would ultimately trample our rights to save, reuse and share seeds.”

He also cited recent experiences with the use of genetically-modified corns that resulted to “farmers ended up heavily indebted because they have to buy seeds from companies every season.”

“We do not want that to happen to rice,” Prado said.   (Alex D. Lopez/davaotoday.com)

  • Aesop

    Stopping the field tests will deprive the world (especially rice-eating countries – including the Philippines- where vitamin A deficiency is a pervading problem) of the opportunity to explore through science-based approaches a very promising additional strategy to address this problem. The field test is an important component of a battery of tests needed to establish safety as required by national regulatory agencies. Think about the millions of children and women going blind and dying from common infections because lack of vitamin A has rendered them incapable to fight even common infections. There are existing ways to alleviate this problem, but golden rice offers a unique opportunity to reach far places and in a sustainable way. Farmers can plant golden rice repeatedly from their own harvest.
    I would say proceed with caution, follow the rules and regulations that have been developed and polished over the years using scientific approaches instead of sowing fear to the public.

comments powered by Disqus