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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.
Few years back, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental had passed an ordinance banning the entry of GMOs in the province. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan is now reconsidering such landmark local legislation to give way for the entry of GMOs in the province of Negros Occidental, Philippines. The Philippine Network of Food and Security Programme appeals:
Applying precautionary principle
By: Errol A. Gatumbato
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Negros Occidental is now deliberating a controversial issue on genetically modified organism or commonly known as the GMO. The on-going discussion is triggered by the move to reconsider the earlier position of the SP in banning the introduction of GMO in Negros Occidental province. Recently, the SP invited several experts to shed lights over the possible effects and impacts of GMO, particularly on humans and environment. There was no final decision yet, as additional experts are expected to provide more insights.
The issue on GMO is now being debated not only in Negros Occidental but in the entire world, especially in forums involving natural resources management. Proponents of GMO are claiming that this state of the art discovery responds to the need for a much higher agricultural productivity to feed the ballooning population of the world. The GMO was pioneered to several agricultural crops, particularly potato and corn, by some multi-national corporations involved in food productions. It is an organism that has been genetically modified or altered through genetic engineering techniques.
Many claimed that GMO has no effects at all to health and environment. However, there are also contrary opinions because some researchers lament that in fact some indications on the negative impacts of the GMO to both plant and animal species are already noted in some areas. Both opposing and supporting groups to GMO are conducting intensive investigations on this man-made intervention to organism in supporting their arguments.
I will not present facts and figures on the impacts of this GMO, either positive or negative, but would rather invoke the “precautionary principle” in dealing with this issue. This principle emanated from conservation community to ensure that any program, project and/or concept of which impacts are not clearly illustrated shall not be allowed to proceed. The lack of information and knowledge for instance, and unavailability of concrete evidence to prove that a particular development has either positive or negative effects are justification to say no to such intervention. Since we are dealing with a very sensitive issue that may have a long-term impact, it is very important that decision-makers shall be cautious and critical about the GMO.
The advancement of science has already led to invention of numerous high valued crops to increase food production. However, most if not all of these high valued crops require intensive use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that are very hazardous to health and environment. The multi-national corporations engaged in manufacturing fertilizers and pesticides actually benefitted from this development. The introduction of high valued crops, like rice and vegetables, also eradicated some native species, which are most appropriate in local conditions. Moreover, the extensive use of lands for high valued crops and the intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides have declined soil fertility.
The other issue we are facing is the proliferation of invasive species because of the notion before that some species, especially those coming from other countries, are more productive and useful compared to local species. In effect, some introduced or exotic species proliferated in some areas, resulting to biological pollution and occurrence of pest. And come to think of it that the introduction of exotic species did not involve any genetic modification but it has created negative impact to the environment, how much more an organism that has been genetically altered when introduced?
There are also questions on the introduction of GMO in Negros Occidental in terms of purpose and intent. Is it aimed to increase food production in the province for its internal use or for exports? Is the food production and supplies in Negros Occidental are already insufficient that we need to introduce GMO in our agricultural development? What is the implication of GMO introduction to the priority agenda of the province in promoting organic food production and to become a prime production area for organically grown food? If the production of GMO is intended for export, how much will the province and local farmers profit and benefit from it? Is the province and its people are also prepared in the event that negative effects will arise from the introduction of GMO?
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