The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) hit government’s approval of genetically modified rice, saying that its release will cause harm to people’s health and the environment.
“Government should not have approved for direct use, Bayer’s LL62 to the Philippine environment last May 16, 2012, considering studies that this herbicide tolerant rice will cause a range of illnesses affecting the nervous and respiratory systems,” Normita Ignacio, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment or SEARICE said.
She added that the release of GM rice poses socio-economic risks such as that brought about by the US rice contamination of this kind of GM rice which resulted to multimillion dollar losses to farmers in 2006 to 2007.
Bayer Crop Science, Inc produced Liberty Link Rice 62 or LL62 by inserting a gene of a soil bacteria, Streptomyces lygroscopicus, into the genetic make?up of Bengal rice, a popular rice variety grown in Southern USA. The result is a genetically modified rice that is tolerant to a herbicide also developed by Bayer. The herbicide called Liberty is also known as glufosinate ammonium.
Exposure to glufosinate has adverse effects on people’s health. Citing studies, Ignacio said that glufosinate poisoning occurs in humans and this is manifested through unconsciousness, respiratory distress and convulsions. The herbicide is also linked to kidney disorder as well as fetal deaths.
Ignacio questioned the process by which the bacteria?ridden rice was approved by government’s Bureau of Plant Industry. “The public, most especially farmers and consumers was neither genuinely consulted nor informed as to the effects of LL62 rice on health and the environment,” Ignacio said. She added that Philippine laws do not provide for mechanisms that allow people to genuinely participate in decisions regarding the release of GMOs in the country.
LL62 is of the same class as the LL601 that Bayer introduced to US soils in 2006 through field tests. The USDA thereafter announced that all US long grain rice in at least five US states were contaminated with LL601 or the genetically modified rice. Within four days of the USDA announcement, a decline in rice futures was observed which cost US farmers about $150 million.
Exports of US rice also fell, US farmers said, as the European Union, Japan, Russia, as well as the Philippines slowed or stopped their imports of US?grown long grain rice.
US farmers thereafter filed at least 1,500 lawsuits. The Insurance Journal reported that as of 2011, a settlement of up to $750 million1 damages has been reached with US rice producers including farmers and crop share landlords over LL601 contamination.
“We are very worried about the release of GM rice, since rice is the staple crop of all Filipinos and is consumed in large quantities, government should have applied caution and not released the GM rice at all, especially since a lot of countries has already banned GMOs in their countries.
Even glufosinate as a herbicide has already been banned in some countries,” Ignacio said. Thailand, which is the number one exporter of rice in the whole world, for instance, Ignacio said, has committed not to genetically modify its rice so as not to affect their sales.
The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment advocates sustainable agriculture. The group does not support GMOs not only due to the health and environmental risks it poses, but also because GMOs affect farmers’ rights to save, reuse and exchange their seeds. GMO seeds cannot be re?used and exchanged due to patent rights.