On GMO and rice
Protecting native rice varieties from GMO
By: Errol A. Gatumbato
(This article was first published at the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City, Philippines, September 14, 2009 issue)
Over the weekend, I visited the on-going Negros Trade Fair at the Rockwell Tent in Makati and worth mentioning is the promotion and display of organically grown food produced, such as rice, coffee, some vegetables, and other products. I immediately noted the banner thrust of Negros Occidental and Negros Orientation provinces of becoming major organic production areas in the Philippines, which I thought this trade fair is in fact promoting it.
However, I was also reminded that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental is now inclined towards the lifting of the ban of Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs in the province that is somehow inconsistent to the concept and principle of native and organic food production.
One of the critical issues now in food production is the introduction of GMOs and mind you that even rice is no longer spared because of the discovery that some strains of GMO rice were already available in markets around the globe, according to Greenpeace, a campaign organization promoting environmental conservation and peace around the world.
In 2006, Greenpeace said, some US rice stocks were found to have been contaminated with GMO rice, although at that time the GMO rice had not been approved for human consumption and it was a product of an abandoned experiment.
The unwanted incident triggered some countries in Europe, Asia and Americas to reject US rice imports, Greenpeace added.
The proliferation of GMO rice also reached in the Philippines in late 2006 and Greenpeace exposed that this unapproved rice was already available in supermarkets. The National Food Authority immediately required that all US rice imports shall be certified as GMO-free but according to Greenpeace, “the current measures by the government to inspect and test GMO presence in rice remain grossly insufficient”. In 2008, Greenpeace further claimed, US GMO rice was still shipped to the Philippines.
Greenpeace is campaigning for GMO-free crop and food production because it believes that genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health. According to Greenpeace, genetic manipulation is an imprecise and risky process because it involves modification of the DNA of an organism and at any point may well have side effects that are impossible to predict.
Greenpeace explained that GMOs are products of genetic engineering of which the genes of one species are inserted randomly into the DNA of an entirely different organism in a way that can never happen naturally. It cited an example of a tomato inserted with genes from a fish to create a vegetable with a longer shelf life and a corn inserted with bacteria genes to create a crop that has its own built in insecticide.
“Aside from the fact that the resulting living GMO would never occur in the natural world, the new living organism created becomes a living experiment, unpredictable and its long term effects on the environment and human health are unknown,” Greenpeace added.
The other important concern on GMO is its possible proliferation and later on may no longer be controlled or contained because GMOs are alive and can crossbreed and reproduce. According to Greenpeace, pollen from GMO crops can be carried by winds and interbreed with regular crops and then able to reproduce unintentionally. Unlike products from the market that can immediately be recalled once discovered to be defective, GMOs are impossible to recall and their effects difficult to reverse.
Rice is one of the most valuable crops in the world. It is grown in over 100 countries, consumed by over two billion people and primary source of proteins for millions. For us Filipinos, rice is the most important food and through the years we survived eating GMO-free rice and now why bothers to introduce GMO rice? Greenpeace said that no GMO rice is approved for consumption or propagation in the Philippines and yet it already started to proliferate. But there is a pending application for the importation and for direct use in food and processing of a GMO rice strain.
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