Bishop says no to rice from US

Gutierrez said the "Bigasan sa Parokya" outlets, which will be managed by the diocese's Social Action Center, will only be selling NFA rice stocks imported from either Vietnam or Thailand that are also available in the local markets at P18.25 a kilo.

"We will not accept any US rice allocation because they may contain GMOs that could pose some possible health hazards later on. We'll just have the cheap but safe rice," the bishop said in an interview over radio station dxMC Bombo Radyo this morning.

The Diocese of Marbel, which covers South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City, is currently trying to acquire a license from the NFA to allow the opening of NFA rice retail outlets in parishes and affiliated diocesan offices.

The diocese's move came after the Department of Agriculture sought the help of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in selling the NFA rice through the networks of its social action arm National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA).

The measure is intended to curb the rising prices of commercial rice varieties, which earlier went up to as high as P35 a kilo.

Gutierrez said he has instructed Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action coordinator of the diocese, to make sure the NFA rice that would be allocated to the diocese is of the best quality and free from GMOs.   

"The theme song of those people consuming the chemical-laden rice is 'Killing Me Softly' and I don't want us to also experience that," he said.

The NFA already started selling imported rice from the US, dubbed premium rice, in some outlets in Metro Manila at P25 a kilo.

But Pangalian Busran, NFA-South Cotabato provincial manager, said he has yet to receive any official communication from the NFA central office on whether the area will be covered by the US rice allocation.

"Based on the previous statements to the media from our central office, the US premium rice will only cover the National Capital region and some key cities," he said.

He said the other possible distribution areas of the US premium rice aside from Metro Manila are the cities of Cebu and Davao.   

Environmental group Greenpeace earlier raised alarm over the government's move to sell imported rice from the US due to alleged chemical contamination that could pose danger to health.

Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace's genetic engineering campaigner, said the imported rice from the US may be contaminated with GMOs, which reportedly tested positive in rice shipments from the US in 2006.  

Ocampo said various studies abroad have shown that genetically-modified rice, which is reportedly embedded with herbicides, is not safe for human consumption.

NFA officials have repeatedly denied such claims saying the US rice shipments have all been tested and certified as GMO-free by Eurofins Gene Scan through the US Department of Agriculture. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)