‘Rice deities’ descend on Department of Agriculture

Manila, 16 April 2007 — Greenpeace activists dressed to symbolize the bul-ul, a traditional Ifugao rice guardian, carried out a sit-in protest at the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) doorsteps in Quezon City today. The peaceful action was meant to tell the DA to act on its mandate to protect the country’s food supply, in this case against looming GMO rice (genetically-modified rice) threat posed by the agency’s pending decision on GMO rice Bayer LL62.

As part of the protest, the activists also displayed a banner with the message “Keep our rice GMO-free!” and delivered a bul-ul carving to DA Secretary Arthur Yap’s office to remind him daily of the DA’s important role in watching over the country’s precious rice supply. The bul-ul, Greenpeace says, also symbolizes how this grain is inextricably linked to our culture and way of life, and should serve to remind us how GMO rice must never become a reality in the Philippines.

“We are calling on the DA to be a vigilant guardian of our country’s most precious food crop,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigns director Von Hernandez. “Our rice is under threat from corporate-driven genetic-tampering. Instead of entertaining the application of the GMO rice Bayer LL62 the DA should ensure that our rice supply is safe both to the environment and human health.”

“GMOs pose inherent risks to the environment and human health. These genetically-manipulated organisms threaten biodiversity, food security, farmers’ livelihoods, and consumers’ choice. As the guardian of the country’s rice supply, it is clear that the DA should act now and reject the application of Bayer LL62, as well as all other GMO rice applications in the future,” he added.

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA, is currently reviewing an application for the approval of the GMO rice Bayer LL62, for food, feed and processing in the country. Bayer LL62 is rice genetically-manipulated to resist the powerful weed-killer glufosinate which is meant to be used in conjunction with the said GMO crop. Greenpeace has been actively blocking the approval of Bayer LL62, asserting that its entry into the country’s food chain will have disastrous consequences on the Philippines’ most important food crop. The approval of Bayer LL62 will further set a dangerous precedent that will open the floodgates to the future entry of other GMO rice strains in the country.

Bayer submitted its application for the authorization of LL62 GMO rice in August 2006. But although the BPI announced last month that LL62 is still under assessment, they have yet to publicly disclose how far the application has gone, and at what date the public can expect the final decision. Greenpeace says that this is why their call for the rejection of Bayer LL62 is urgent.

“If protecting the integrity of our rice is their intention, then there is no need for the BPI and the DA to dilly-dally over a decision that should in fact be straightforward. But the BPI’s record in approving GMOs is far from reassuring. In the 49 months since December 2002, the BPI has approved 40 GMOs for commercial use in the Philippines. But the general public, who ultimately consumes these GMOs, is hardly aware of this development,” said Hernandez. “If we had not raised the issue of LL62 rice into public attention, would the BPI have given this application the prominent public exposure that it rightly deserves? Based on the little they have disclosed so far, perhaps not. And yet, this is a decision that will affect all of us Filipinos at the most basic level in the decades to come.”

“This also therefore serves as a challenge addressed to the DA that they make known to the public whether they are committed to protecting the integrity of our rice and rice supply or not,” 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.