Court of Appeals in the Philippines pauses commercial use of GM-modified crop

Golden Rice is considered an improved rice strain with a potential to cover micronutrient needs of rural, rice-based societies. (Golden Rice Project photo)
Golden Rice is considered an improved rice strain with a potential to cover micronutrient needs of rural, rice-based societies. (Golden Rice Project photo)

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A Court of Appeals in the Philippines delivered a setback in April to what is seen as a beneficial advancement in plant breeding.

The court’s decision to grant a petition by Greenpeace and its local allies effectively imposes a moratorium on the use of Golden Rice, a variety of rice that can help solve Vitamin A deficiency in humans; and Bt Talong, a variety of eggplant that protects the plant and its fruits against a destructive insect pest.

The decision revokes the biosafety permit for commercial propagation of Golden Rice, which was issued by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry in July 2021.

The implications of the decision have yet to be fully determined. In addition to the Philippines, Golden Rice has already received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.

The Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) is reviewing the decision, says Dr. John C. de Leon, DA-Phil Rice executive director.

Golden Rice Development

Golden Rice, also known as Malusog Rice, was developed with enhanced levels of beta-carotene to help tackle vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a form of malnutrition affecting more than 15% of children under six in the Philippines.

Golden Rice is intended to complement existing interventions to address VAD. It has the potential to double the vitamin A intake of children in the lowest 40% of the income distribution.

Members of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Agricultural Sciences Division say in a statement that Golden Rice’s “development dates back to the late 1990s through the work of European scientists. They were developed locally by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and PhilRice, respectively, both of which are public institutions with a proven track record of service to the Filipino people.”

“Science can make predictions about potential harm and formulate mitigation and remedial measures,” the statement says. “These are precisely the measures incorporated in the regulatory system that approved the introduction of Bt Talong and Golden Rice. The Philippine system is compliant with international standards that have been used for more than a quarter of a century and have been proven by practice to be reliable.”

The scientists warned that the court’s decision would delay the use of the improved crops, which would ultimately cause more harm than good.

Greenpeace Response

Meanwhile, Greenpeace commends this decision and is honored to be part of the movement that supported this work spearheaded by Filipino farmers, who will ultimately benefit the most from the decision, says the organization’s Southeast Asia campaigner Wilhelmina Pelegrina.

“This decision is a monumental win for Filipino farmers and Filipino people who have for decades stood up against genetically modified (GM) crops,” Pelegrina says. “Greenpeace has constantly noted that GM crops have been approved in the Philippines despite the lack of robust data on safety assessments submitted by proponents. GM crops have never been proven safe, and have hindered necessary progress on climate resilient ecological agriculture that keeps the control of seeds on our farmers. We reiterate our stance: the involved companies and agencies have yet to show concrete evidence that these crops would be in the best interest of Filipinos, our environment, and our agricultural sector.”