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UPSHOT by Bernardo V. Lopez
21-September-2006 BusinessWorld

Environment NGO Lingkod Tao Kalikasan (LTK) reports that an unauthorized GMO rice variety called LLRICE601, developed by the US Bayer CropScience, was discovered in rice samples from the US South rice-growing region.

LTK raises the possibility that if the US cannot sell its GM contaminated rice…it might dump it as food aid or as 'loan'", citing the recent signing of the US Public Law 480 agreement for 2006 between Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenny.

The accord involves a $20-million loan for the importation of 69,000 metric tons of US rice to arrive early next year. The LTK fears the entry of the unauthorized GM long grain rice via this loan agreement.

The LTK is, thus, requesting the Department of Agriculture to impose moratorium on the importation of US long grain rice, as well as a mandatory test of all such US imports. This is precisely what the EU and Japan did. The EU required tests on all rice imports from the US, and Japan banned it altogether. The move was prompted by US authorities admitting that the unapproved GMO rice was among the exports to Europe.

The LTK is conducting an e-mail campaign to ask readers to write letters to our Department of Agriculture and pressure it to ban US rice imports. The sale of all types of GMO agricultural products is finding strong resistance from European and Japanese markets. With the shrinking global market for GMO rice, it is indeed possible that the same would be dumped in Third World countries with weak regulatory systems. It is ironic that the US rice industry went into GMO rice production for better profits, but is now achieving the exact opposite. This should be a lesson for the Philippines not to jump into the GM bandwagon.

The sinister aspect of PL 480 is the hand of the powerful lobby group of biotech multinationals, its tentacles reaching the US embassy here. One of the lobby group's pawn is the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which is facing a class action law suit from a coalition of about 50 organizations of environmentalists, consumers, physicians, food safety advocates, and scientists.

They charge the FDA of "failure to adopt any premarket safety requirements for GE food and for failing to require labels so consumers are informed if foods contain ingredients from GE products" (third World Network Malaysia, June 13, 2006). The FDA says GMO crops are "safe" based on scant information voluntarily given by biotech firms. The FDA failed to stop the commercialization of Starlink GMO corn which "cost American farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost exports" (Center for Food Safety, June 7, 2000). GMO crops are widely grown throughout the US unregulated, and the Missouri-based Monsanto is its global leader.

The US Agriculture department is another biotech pawn. US environmentalists are calling for a moratorium on open air testing of GMOs for vaccines and medicines. A federal court found the Agriculture department guilty of allowing firms to plant such crops in Hawaii without first investigating possible threats to the environment. Before the court decision, corn and sugarcane plants modified to produce human hormones, ingredients for vaccines against AIDS and Hepatitis B, had been harvested (Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2006). Pharmaceutical firms turn to GMO "biopharming" because it is much cheaper to produce their inputs in the field than in the laboratory.

The core of the problem is the fact that GMO contamination is irreversible. Once the genetic traits of modified varieties are passed on through cross-pollination, there is no way to undo the process. And the spread can be very quick. This is now the predicament of the US rice industry. The whole world is now rejecting US rice imports to safeguard their own rice varieties from contamination. The biotech firms have to recover their money by dumping the rejected GMO rice on Third World nations.

Because GMO technology is in its infancy, its consequent effects are relatively still unknown. But in spite of the many negative reports GMO multinationals consider this as the thing of the future. Their scientists claim GMOs are "safe" sans a long-term study on its effects. Some of these are just starting to emerge. There is along gestation period for these safety tests because symptoms may appear only much later, or upon reaching a certain cumulative level beyond the body's tolerance.

The GMO scientists of biotech firms have a strange logic. They want proof GMOs are unsafe. If there is none, they consider these safe. Skeptic scientists want proof these are safe. If there is none, they consider these unsafe precisely because of the many negative reports.

During GMA's visit to China, one of the talking points was the importation of Chinese GMO rice. I just hope there was no binding agreement or a quid pro quo on this. Because rice is a basic and critical food commodity and produced all over the Philippines, and because GMO contamination is irreversible and can spread fast, the import of GMO rice can raise havoc on our agricultural system. We are a rice country.

The only way the GMO multinationals can prove the safety of their products is to make guinea pigs of people who will take them. Third World nations are the prime targets of multinationals because their regulatory systems lack teeth, and bureaucrats and tribal communities are much easier to bribe.

GMOs were developed by multinationals to control Third World agriculture. That is why they are patented right away. Yet the seeds were taken from the very countries to which they will sell their products, termed by environmentalists as "biopiracy". They also want to simply minimize production costs in pharmaceuticals. Like the EU and Japan, we have to be vigilant against this type of global multinationalism.

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