Farmers and stakeholders opposed on Monday the use of Golden Rice, a genetically modified variety of rice co-developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“[Genetically modified] crops such as Golden Rice contaminate local rice varieties, ultimately erasing the genetic traits and characteristics of our traditional and farmer-bred rice varieties,” said environmental biologist Dr. Charito P. Medina at a blended press briefing. 

“Years of effort spent to breed climate change–resilient varieties that are ecologically apt will go extinct in the blink of an eye,” he added. 

The new rice variety will be deployed in areas with high prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency by the third quarter of 2022 before rolling out to the general public. 

In 2021, the Philippines issued a biosafety permit and approved the commercial propagation of the Vitamin A-enriched Golden Rice, after more than a decade of field tests that were opposed by farmers, scientists, and environmental groups like Greenpeace. 

 “IRRI has a long list of crimes against Filipino farmers,” said Cris C. Panerio, national coordinator of farmer-scientist group Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), citing debts due to due to costly chemical requirements and ailments due to long-term exposure to chemical pesticides. 

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the Department of Agriculture (DA), and IRRI have been quick to legitimize Golden Rice while offering little to no information on its environmental and health precautions, according to the network. 

To combat malnutrition and ensure food security, speakers instead suggested promoting readily available, diverse, and safe Vitamin A food sources from sustainable and ecological farming. 

Rodolfo Cortez, a Negros Occidental-based farmer-leader, shared that he worries about Golden Rice’s “marketability amid the unreasonably low price of rice grain in the market due to the Rice Tariffication Law.” 

The law, known as Republic Act No. 11203, liberalized rice imports that used to be heavily regulated, allowing private parties to import with fewer restrictions though requiring them to pay a 35% tariff on Southeast Asian grain. 

This February, farmers campaigned to repeal the act, claiming that it failed to meet its objective of improving their prosperity after three years. — Brontë H. Lacsamana