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Proponents of GM rice ignore the risks

12:06 AM September 18, 2014

Genetically modified (GM) rice, cleverly dubbed “golden rice” by its proponents, is rice whose genetic makeup is being manipulated so that its grains will contain beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A. It is supposed to help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of blindness. Experiments have been ongoing, with the aim of introducing GM rice to the public in a couple of years.

Opposition to GM rice, however, is widespread. Critics will surely bring the issue to court, just as they opposed the field testing of GM eggplant in the legal arena, where they won. The Court of Appeals stopped the field testing of this crop.

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Why the fierce opposition? The bottom line is this: It has not been proven that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption. On the contrary, there is mounting evidence that these are not safe, as shown by experiments on animals in many laboratories around the world. The longest-term (two years) experiment conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen in France, showed that rats fed GM corn developed tumors and liver damage and died earlier than those not fed the product.

There have also been human epidemics, according to reports to the US Center for Disease Control. People who consumed Starlink, a GM corn, suffered allergies, muscle weakening, difficulty in breathing, and other symptoms. People who took L-tryptophan, a substance commonly found in milk but in the manufacturing process of Showa Denko was produced with the use of GM bacteria, suffered similar effects, but in this case, many deaths and more severe afflictions of thousands resulted. Recently, there was a report stating that among Chinese university students fed a diet of GM rice, the incidence of leukemia shot up to three times higher than in the national population.

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A number of countries have laws that ban or restrict GMOs. In Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece and Hungary, GM corn and other food crops are currently outlawed. Ecuador’s constitution   prohibits GMOs. Peru and Kenya imposed a 10-year moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops. Given the probable hazards, shouldn’t we take the precautionary principle and be wary of this novel species until it is proven safe? Those pushing GM rice do not seem to mind that there are risks. They keep trotting out the same noble-sounding but tired and flawed arguments, such as:

  • “Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in developing countries.”

They neglect to say that in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health, incidence of Vitamin A deficiency has been going down and is no longer a public health issue. Government programs, in particular diet education and Vitamin A fortification (but not by genetic manipulation) of certain foods, have met with success.

Vitamin A deficiency is readily cured by a diet rich in deep green and yellow vegetables like the widely available malunggay, kamote, alugbati, and kalabasa. For more direct intervention, an inexpensive Vitamin A pill has been invented by Dr. Alfred Sommer, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and John Hopkins University School of Medicine. For this invention, Sommer recently received the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal in Global Public Health.

  • “How can we test for biosafety when protesters prevent field testing by uprooting our plants?”

Readers should disabuse their minds of the notion that field testing is for the purpose of testing GMOs for safety. Field testing is for testing efficacy—i.e., growth and yield in various agricultural conditions.

GMOs should not be field-tested until they are proven safe in laboratory-confined trials. Field testing can result in the contamination of other plants and harm to nature as a whole. The existence of the National Council for Biosafety of the Philippines produces the false assurance that our country’s safety from GMOs is being ensured. This impression is far from the truth as the council does not conduct tests but merely accepts the biased studies of the proponents that their GM products are safe to plant and eat.

An examination of the protocol for field testing will show that health safety does not enter the picture at all. It goes like this: GM plants are protected from contamination by locating them far from other plants. After the field trial, the plants are buried deep underground to prevent any wayward contamination of the environment. At no stage is health safety addressed. If anything, the protocol is tacit admission that GMOs pose health hazards!

Given the evidence that GMOs are dangerous to health, that our biosafety protocol does not ensure protection, and that we have so many accessible and cheap sources of Vitamin A, who needs golden rice?

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Angelina P. Galang ([email protected]) is in the board of Consumer Rights for Safe Food, a member-organization of NO2GMO Coalition.

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TAGS: alugbati, Court of Appeals, Genetically modified rice, Gilles-Eric Séralini, GM rice, GMOs, Golden Rice, kalabasa, kamote, malunggay, molecular biologist, National Council for Biosafety of the Philippines, University of Caen, US Center for Disease Control, Vitamin A, Vitamin A deficiency
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