Farmers group calls on LGUs to campaign vs GM crops

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 April) – Farmer-led umbrella group Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) has exhorted local government units (LGUs) in the country to join the campaign against the commercial release of genetically modified crops Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant.

This after the Supreme Court (SC) granted a Writ of Kalikasan to the petitioners led by Masipag, who sought to stop the commercial propagation of genetically modified rice and eggplant products over environmental and health concerns and compliance with legal requirements.

Leo XL Fuentes, Masipag-Mindanao regional coordinator, called on local governments, especially those in Mindanao, to support the “growing clamor of local farmers, scientists and consumers” against the commercial release of Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant.

A worker punches a hole in the ground where fertilizers for the eggplants will be spread at the farm of Enrique Valenzuela in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. 24 June 2020. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

The LGUs must promote and uphold the people’s right to a balanced and healthful ecology, he noted.

“We reiterate that genetically modified (GM) crops like Golden Rice and Bt Eggplant have dangers of irreversible damage to the environment, biodiversity of rice and eggplant, and human health,” Fuentes said in a statement.

The High Tribunal’s Public Information Office said the Supreme Court required the respondents – the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Secretary of the Department of Health, the Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the University of the Philippines – Los Baños (UPLB) – to file a verified return within 10 days from service of the writ.

In 2021, the DA approved the propagation of beta carotene-enriched Malusog Rice, also known as Golden Rice, in 17 pioneer production areas across the country, including in the Mindanao provinces of Lanao del Norte, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Maguindanao and North Cotabato. 

Golden Rice, patented by transnational agrochemical corporation Syngenta, is a type of rice inserted with genes from maize and bacterium found in soil.

Proponents said the technology is safe to human health and the environment and will serve Vitamin A-deficient children, mothers and pregnant women, especially in areas with severe malnutrition. 

However, data shows that beta-carotene content in Golden Rice is measly and inconsistent, according to Masipag.

On the contrary, a wide array of safe and low-cost vegetables, fruits, and other crops are a dependable source of nutrition for communities. Vitamin A deficiency and other malnutrition issues confronting many households can also be traced to the lack of access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food due to poverty, it added.

On the other hand, commercial propagation of Bt Eggplant or Talong was approved last year.

Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis is a soil bacterium injected into the genes of eggplants to produce its own toxin to kill fruit and shoot borers, a common pest that consumes and damage eggplants.

Fuentes recalled that in 2010, organic farmers and other residents in Davao City opposed the conduct of field testing for Bt Eggplant in the city, as “it exposes local varieties to contamination,” and runs counter to the local organic agriculture ordinance that pushes for organic farming systems and practices.

In 2012, a field trial of the controversial Bt Talong was conducted at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

With its regulatory approval last year, the Philippines becomes the second country in the world, after Bangladesh, to allow the commercial propagation of borer-resistant Bt eggplant.

“The biosafety approval for commercial propagation allows us to scale up our operations and ensure the availability of the Bt eggplant seeds in the coming years,” Dr. Lourdes Taylo, the current lead of the Bt Eggplant Project in the Philippines, said in a statement.

Fuentes said they believe that GM crops “do not represent genuine development.” 

He called on the government “to promote safe, healthy and sustainable food production by supporting genuine pro-farmer agriculture and a pro-people food system.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)