Greenpeace moves to block GMO rice approval

Manila, 12 February 2007–Greenpeace today moved to block Bayer’s application for the approval of the genetically-modified (GMO) rice LL62 for “direct use in food, feed, and processing” in the country at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in Malate. Questioning the expected approval of the GMO rice strain by the bureau’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel, the environmental group is set to submit a comprehensive dossier opposing GMOs, particularly the genetically-engineered (GE) Liberty Link (LL) rice, to oppose Bayer’s move to legalize LL62 for human consumption.

“If the GMO Bayer LL62 is approved, its impact on our most important food crop would be disastrous. GMO rice is risky. It poses even greater risks to the Philippines, a rice-eating country. It will threaten our rice biodiversity and compromise the environment and human health. Moreover, Bayer’s GMO rice has already caused massive financial damage to the global rice industry. It will be a big mistake to allow GMO rice to enter our food supply,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia GE campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

Bayer’s herbicide-resistant LL rice strain figured in a rice scandal of global proportions last year. In July 2006, Bayer LL601, an experimental GMO that was not approved for commercial distribution or human consumption in any place in the world, was found to have contaminated the world’s food chain. The news elicited strong reactions from rice farmers and processors, as well as governments. Bayer faced a class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of US farmers, and Japan, EU, and Russia responded with import restrictions. The incident also prompted rice producers and exporters in the US, EU, and Asia to commit to GMO-free production and trade. In the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture (DA) prohibited future GMO rice imports, and assigned a team in the US to test possible contamination in shipments to the Philippines.

After the global contamination, Bayer belatedly applied for the approval of LL601 from the US Department of Agriculture, presumably to limit its liability for the incident. Although now approved in the US, Bayer shows no signs of intending to commercialize the LL601. The said GMO rice, however, remains unapproved in the rest of the world, including in the Philippines where Greenpeace revealed it continues to be openly sold in local supermarkets. Bayer LL62, the GMO rice pending approval at the BPI, is a variety similar to LL601.

Greenpeace asserts that the approval of Bayer LL62 will open the floodgates to further GMO rice contamination in the Philippines. LL62 has been granted approval for cultivation, and use in food and feed in only one country, the US. GMO rice, however, is currently facing global consumer rejection. Once LL62 is approved in the country, the Philippines, a net importer of its most important food staple, could become the dumping ground of GMO rice rejected by the rest of the world.

Further, the entry of GMO rice will make widespread GMO contamination within the country probable. GMO rice could outcross wild and native varieties, which could eventually lead to their extinction.

LL62 also poses health risks. LL62 is genetically-modified to resist the powerful herbicide glufosinate, which is meant to be used in conjunction with the GMO crop. With LL62, usage levels for this herbicide will increase, also increasing the likelihood of glufosinate residues on the rice itself. Glufosinate has been observed to cause adverse health effects in animals, causing nervous system and birth defects. Increased use of the herbicide could likewise increase nitrate leaching, and can poison beneficial soil micro-organisms.

“Since last year, Greenpeace has repeatedly alerted the DA about the presence in the market of GMO-tainted LL601 rice banned for human consumption. Up to now, the DA has yet to act on that issue. But what is more shocking is that while the rest of the world is rejecting GMO rice, the DA is unashamedly entertaining its approval–a move that will threaten our environment, our health, and our economy,” said Ocampo.

“Greenpeace is urging not just the DA–but all Filipinos–to reject GMO rice outright. Rice is life. GMO rice, a dangerous and unwanted technology, must never become a reality,” he added.

Greenpeace campaigns for GE-free crop and food production grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity, and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic-engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity, and poses unacceptable risks to health.

For further information please contact:
Daniel Ocampo, GE campaigner, +63 917 897 6416
Lea Guerrero, Media Campaigner, +63 2 434 7034 loc 104, +63 916 374