Can the Philippines keep GM rice off the market?
22 May 2023
Genetically-modified rice and eggplant products will not be allowed on the market after the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a writ in favor of farmers and scientists who sought to stop the government from commercializing these products.
“Slow Food local communities welcome this decision in favor of public health and the local environment”, comments Georie Pitong of the Slow Food Community for Food Education in Panay, together with Arlene Dela Rosa from the Slow Food Community Kusina liking education, conserving and promoting agroecology of Southern Negros. While Ramon Uy Jr, a member of the Slow Food Community in Negros Occidental and a Slow Food International Councillor adds, “We welcome this development and laud the supreme court in issuing the temporary stoppage in planting and distributing as well. We have been against GMO since 2007”.
The legal proceedings
In a session late in April the Supreme Court heard a petition made by the Magsasaka and other petitioners against officials of the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, and Health as well as the Bureau of Plant Industry, Philippine Rice Research Institute and University of the Philippines-Los Baños. The petition invokes a judicial mechanism called “kalikasan”, meaning “nature”, which is designed to provide protection against natural disasters caused by human activities like mining. It alleges that the golden rice and the Bacillus thuringiensis Eggplant (Bt Eggplant) are genetically-modified organisms thus cause for environmental concern.
In July 2021, the Bureau of Plant Industry issued a permit for the commercialization of golden rice despite the opposition of farmers and consumers. Several inquiries from the Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN) revealed that there are no independent and in-depth studies to prove the safety of GM crops, particularly golden rice, with regards to its impact on public health and the environment.
In October 2022, a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan, with a demand for the issuance of temporary environmental protection order, was submitted to the Supreme Court to stop the commercial propagation of golden rice and Bt eggplant in the Philippines. The move was led by MASIPAG, Greenpeace Philippines and individual scientists, farmers, and concerned individuals. The commercialization of GM rice and Bt eggplant has been supported by institutions such as the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Plant Industries of the Department of Agriculture, the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
In Panay, the Slow Food Community for Education has been supporting other institutions to promote this petition which opposes the commercial propagation of golden rice on the Island of Panay. Last year, Golden rice planting was piloted in the areas of Antique and Iloilo.
The Writ of Kalikasan is a temporary victory. With it, the court recognizes that there is a merit to the case filed by the petitioners. Accordingly, as part of due process, the court has given the respondents 10 days to submit a response, after which a court hearing will proceed for the court to study evidence and hear from witnesses on both sides. The evidence will have to strengthen the merits of the petition regarding three major criteria: the gravity of the injustice, the irreversibility of the damage, and the urgency of action. An order may then issued by the court to prohibit any person or government agency from performing an act in order to protect, preserve or rehabilitate the environment.
Meanwhile, the petitioners are preparing for the beginning of the court hearing. There is an urgent need for petitioners and other health and environmental advocates to dialogue with local government units in order to protect the health of local consumers through the promotion of clear policies for organic agriculture and biodiversity protection.
Likewise, it has become even more urgent for Slow Food communities to conduct agrobiodiversity mapping and preservation, food education and advocacy activities so the latter can urgently take favorable action.
Georie Pitong (Slow Food Community – Food Education in Panay)
And Arlene Dela Rosa (Slow Food Community – KUSINA)
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