[The following is lifted from mb.com.ph column “Pagbabago” by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid. Dr. Braid is a well-respected communication specialist, media practitioner, scholar, development advocate and educator. Indeed, for the past thirty years, Dr. Braid has committed herself in imparting the importance of communication in diverse fields and endeavors related to priority development work, such as in environment and sustainable development, education, literacy, judicial reform, children and women’s rights, and media.]
Today, lobby groups in the country, led by the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) are appealing to government and civil society to prevent the release of Golden Rice scheduled this year. Golden Rice is a genetically modified rice invented in 2005 by biotechnologists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Freiberg in Germany for Syngenta, which together with two other companies, provide financial support. Golden Rice is engineered to provide beta-carotene, an antioxidant known to be converted to Vitamin A, an essential nutrient for normal growth, vision, and good health.
Through other philanthropic foundations, additional funding enabled technologist to improve the rice by increasing the amount of vitamins A and E, iron and zinc and to improve protein quality through genetic modification. The International Rice Research Institute and Philippine Rice Research Institute and other partners are now involved in cross-breeding the golden rice with local rice cultures. But the end-product, Golden Rice 1 and Golden Rice 2, according to SEARICE, is not fit for human consumption. The latter cites the experience of a US-Sino feeding test for four years which sparked outrage across China and other parts of the world. This prompted the government to stop experiments in late 2012. The Chinese government apologized, fired the responsible officials and paid the amount of $12,800 to each family of children who were fed 60 grams of the golden rice.
The SEARICE Primer notes that the Philippines has inadequate regulations on GMOs. Although the country is a party to the Cartagena Protocol and has regulations on Living Modified Organisms, these did not ensure proper information and public participation. At present there are 7 crops – 6 maize varieties and one soybean-awaiting cultivation approval. Its Biosafety Framework or Administrative Order 514 requires circulation of information and public consultation. But the two regulatory agencies, the Bureau of Plant Industry and the Biosafety Committee of the Department of Science and Technology, merely post one-page information sheets in barangay and municipal halls which are not accessible either because the farmers have busy schedules or are illiterate.
As early as the 13th Congress, the then Senator Juan Flavier filed a bill which acknowledged the absence of the necessary laws to address GMOs, particularly on the health aspect. The legislation mandates labeling of food and consumer protection. This was followed by bills filed during the recent Congress – A Bill of Rights for Consumers and An Act to Provide Nutrition Labeling for Foods by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara; and an Act to require that certain genetically engineered material be labeled accordingly, by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.
It appears that there indeed is an urgent need to enact more responsive laws on these fronts – a regulatory framework, stricter consumer protection laws, technology literacy, and access to information.