RISE Against Golden Rice!
Statement on the Approval for Commercialization of Golden Rice and Biosafety Permit for BT Eggplant in the Philippines
29 July 2021
The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) denounces the recent coupled decisions of the Department of Agriculture - Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) on the approval for commercial propagation of Golden Rice, and the biosafety permit for direct use as food, feed and for processing (FFP) of BT Eggplant in the Philippines. We express our deepest dismay for the issuance of these decisions reached by DA-BPI on related procedures on genetically modified crops that we have only received information through media articles, despite consistent and repeated attempts on the conduct of public dialogues and consultations.
On Critical Administrative Procedures on GR Repeatedly Overlooked
On Golden Rice, the approval of commercial propagation was made public on July 23 through a media article that mentions the permit for commercialization was issued by the DA-BPI on the 21st of July, 2021. SEARICE, along with its network of organizations have repeatedly submitted letters and comments to the DA-BPI and expressed its concern on the transparency and administrative procedures being overlooked. The mediatory role and oversight function of the Department of Agriculture is missing in the entire process, as aggrieved stakeholders are only informed of the procedures, either late or when the proponents wanted to. Through the Stop Golden Rice Network, the lack of independent, comprehensive and substantial risk and impact assessments and lack of transparency in findings and reports have also been continually raised. As for BT Talong, we cannot help but believe that the side-lining is intentional as it is a repeated scenario of the sudden release of the Biosafety Permit for FFP towards the end of December 2019 which does not make the permit publicly accessible and related announcements for comments. These procedural issues are only a part of the whole debate, but this minimum procedural justice is clearly not being met.
On Its Presumed Impact to Vitamin A Deficiency
The messaging for marketing Golden Rice to the public, evidently shifted from being a “miracle” curative, targeted solution to nutritional security to one that is “complementary” and only a part of the whole basket of interventions. On a technical level, the fundamental criticism continues to hold -significant Vitamin A content is lost through related processes on rice. Before it reaches the table only a marginal concentration of beta-carotene is retained in the grain after milling, storage, washing and cooking. Second, for the beta-carotene to be absorbed, as it is fat-soluble, it is dependent on the availability of a whole range food sources to targeted populations experiencing chronic nutrition insecurity.
A Stop-Gap, Unsustainable Solution to Nutritional Security
The adoption of this technology is also dependent on the absorptive capacity of communities, in which the key factor is its relevance to their immediate needs. With agricultural communities in the country continuously facing consistent and chronic poverty, inaccessible and insufficient government services, extension programs and infrastructure from public institutions, lack of comprehensive government land reform program; the introduction of Golden Rice to our impoverished communities is yet another hit-or-miss relying on the benevolent innocence of its proponents.
At present, farmers continue to criticize the existing seed distribution programs in the country that suffer inconsistent adoption rates due to the unsuitability to local ecological conditions. Historical evidence has shown how these programs become seemingly successful on initial implementation due to pouring of seed subsidies, but gets unsustainable over time. With problems on current programs that fail to be holistic and integrated, this is a case of public funds awaiting to be once again poured directly to a drain expecting that it will yield results.
Nutrition Security, Diversification of Diets and Diversified Farming Systems
SEARICE believes that nutrition security is complex and would require several interventions, but is extremely linked to the improvement of availability and accessibility of nutritious food to the vulnerable populations. For rural farming communities who suffer at a greater magnitude to chronic nutrition insecurity, key is the development of local food systems through the support of integrated and diversified farming systems, pouring of resources to rural development. The urban poor, also gravely affected by food and nutrition insecurity, would require a comprehensive set of social welfare programs.
We call the attention of the consumers, civil society organizations, farmer partners and partner organizations all over the world to join us as we build up protests in these railroaded decisions that lacked transparency of procedures and any genuine intention for a democratic and multi-stakeholder approach in decision-making. We maintain that the resolutions to these fundamental issues on food, nutrition and livelihood security lies on going back to the basics, and bringing stronger support to the agricultural sector that has faced historical neglect.