Facing down the threat of GM rice (27/3/2007)

1.ASIA: Facing the Threat of GE Rice
2.Philippines: "Stand up for your rice!"
3.Rice! a Matter of life and Death
4.Rice commission adopts moratorium on GM rice testing

GM WATCH comment: Getting acceptance for GM rice has been the biotech industry's biggest hope. But yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported how Mexico, the largest foreign market for US rice, had sent futures plummeting, causing "tremors through the US sector" when it stopped US rice shipments on the border. And from Bangladesh to Sacramento, resistance is breaking out all over.

EXTRACTS: ''Agri-business has paved the way for hybrid rice and now, GE varieties... GE will only make the problem of world hunger worse.''
(item 1)

Hundreds of text messages stating "I love my rice GMO-free" kept Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap's phone busy... His new textmates: Filipino consumers demanding GMO-free rice and rice production. (item 2)


1.ASIA: Facing the Threat of GE Rice
Marwaan Macan-Markar
Inter Press Service, March 27 2007

BANGKOK, Mar 27 (IPS) - With an eye to the future of rice farming in Thailand, a local grassroots organisation is bringing together youth in a north-eastern rice-growing province in a celebration of the diverse varieties of this staple grown in the traditional way.

The event in Kalasin, from Mar. 28 to Apr. 4, aims to ''expose the young to the local rice-growing culture,'' says Janphen Ruyan, programme manager of the Foundation of Reclaiming Rural Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Action. ''Rice is our life; it is not something we just consume.''

This youth camp aims to make the sons and daughters of the country's farmers ''proud of what their communities have produced in the past'' and ''the need to do more,'' she explained in an interview. ''There is concern because some of the local varieties of rice are disappearing.''

In fact, such an awareness campaign is part of a broader effort, spanning the rice-growing countries of Asia, to showcase the triumphs of farmers and rural communities that toil to ensure an abundant crop annually. Thirteen countries, ranging from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, on one end, to Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, on the other, are part of the Week of Rice Action (WORA), which runs from Mar. 29 to Apr. 4.

''This is a fight for the grassroots people,'' says Anne Haslam, spokeswoman for the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP), a regional non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Penang, Malaysia which is spearheading this campaign. ''We want to collect a million signatures during the week to support the work of the local farmers.''

The week of activism is a response to growing fears that traditional farming is under threat from genetically engineered (GE) rice varieties, she told IPS. ''GE rice has been detected in some Asian countries.''

''Agri-business has paved the way for hybrid rice and now, GE varieties such as 'Golden Rice', 'Bt rice' and 'Liberty Rice', have brought about not only the loss of strong and unique local and traditional rice varieties, but their contamination as well,'' states the petition being circulated for signatures during (WORA). ''GE will only make the problem of world hunger worse.''

The petition also targets the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in Los Banos in the Philippines, accusing it of joining ranks with agri-business giants to ensure ''corporate control of seeds and agriculture,'' which, the petition argues, ''rightfully belongs to the farmers of the land.''

IRRI has led the way in producing high yielding hybrid rice in Asia for over four decades. In the last ten years, for instance, it developed over 20 hybrid rice varieties and distributed them to nine Asian countries, from India and Bangladesh in South Asia to Indonesia and Vietnam in South-east Asia. IRRI also pioneered the Green Revolution, during which high yielding varieties of rice were distributed to increase the rice output by 42 percent over a 13-year period, from 1968-81.

But grassroots sympathisers are hardly impressed by such feats, as the 'People's Statement on Saving the Rice of Asia' notes. ''Through the so-called Green Revolution, corporate agriculture has poisoned people and rice fields with pesticides and synthetic fertilisers; degraded rice lands; destroyed rice ecosystems, ecological rice practices and rice culture; and severely undermined the safety of cereal as food,'' states the petition.

Bangladesh illustrates that view. The introduction of hybrid rice has seen that country's rice varieties drop from an estimated 50,000 rice varieties to about 1,500. Activists blame the Green Revolution for destroying the traditional farming culture that had given birth to such an abundant diversity of grain.

Asia is the largest producer of the grain that feeds an estimated three billion people daily. China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand top the list of the world's rice-growing nations. The region harvests over 500 million tonnes of paddy annually, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates.

Thailand, moreover, is the world's leading rice exporter, shipping over seven million tonnes of the grain annually, in recent years, to overseas markets, adds the U.N. food agency. Vietnam comes second in a list that also includes China, India and Pakistan.

But early this year, the global environmental lobby Greenpeace raised the alarm on threats to Asian rice varieties by GE rice varieties produced in the United States but detected in South-east Asian markets. The Philippines government was the target of this warning, given Manila's decision to allow ''the importation and continued sale of genetically-modified rice which, by law, cannot be legally distributed and marketed for human consumption in the country.''

Among the rice brands singled out by the South-east Asia office of Greenpeace was ''Uncle Sam Texas Long Grain,'' which it said was ''tainted with the GMO Bayer LL601.'' This grain 'LL601' is rice that has been ''genetically altered to resist the powerful herbicide glufosinate. It is illegal (not approved for distribution and human consumption) everywhere in the world except in the U.S.''

''This is a threat to biodiversity in the region. It shows that there is no proper effort to check and monitor contaminated rice from the U.S. ending up here,'' Neth Dano, an associate of the Third World Network, a regional think tank, said in a telephone interview from Manila. ''Governments are still not aware about the dangers posed by GE rice.''

The week-long awareness campaign is needed to drive home the concerns of local farmers and communities that the paddy fields of the region are not open to GE rice, she added. ''If things change, it will be very tragic.'' (END/2007)


2.Philippines: "Stand up for your rice!"
March 19 2007

Hundreds of text messages stating "I love my rice GMO-free" kept Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Arthur Yap's phone busy from 12 noon to 1 PM of March 15. His new textmates: Filipino consumers demanding GMO-free rice and rice production. The text barrage was the World Consumers' Day activity that is part of Greenpeace's campaign against GMO rice. The text brigade also marked the launch of Greenpeace's "I love my rice GMO-free" web campaign today. The campaign includes a cyber petition addressed to the DA, kits for spreading the campaign to friends and acquaintances, and a rice blog open to the public for posting. The web campaign may be accessed through www.greenpeace.org.ph.

"If we care about what we eat we have to do everything to protect our food," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic Engineering Campaigner Daniel Ocampo. "Rice, our most important staple food, is under threat. Instead of entertaining the application of the GMO rice Bayer LL62, which is rejected in other parts of the world, the DA should ensure that our rice supply is safe both to the environment and human health."

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA, is currently reviewing an application for the approval of a GMO rice strain, 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 the entry of GMO rice in the country's food chain will have disastrous consequences on the country's most important food crop.

If Bayer LL62 is approved, the Philippines may become the dumping ground of GMO rice rejected by the rest of the world. LL62 has been granted approval in only one country, the US. But the GMO rice, and a related strain, Bayer LL601, is facing global consumer rejection.

Bayer LL601 and LL62 figured in a global rice scandal when it contaminated US long grain rice stocks last year. US long grain rice became either regulated or rejected in major markets including the EU, Japan, Russia, and the Philippines. The latest to close its doors to US long grain rice imports is Mexico, The US' largest rice export market, which now requires GMO-free certification before any entry of US rice.

A report by the USA Rice Federation earlier this week confirmed that 47% the US rice market has been affected by the GMO rice scandal. The California Rice Commission has also asked for moratorium on the planting of GMO rice in the state. And in an even bigger move last Friday, the US Department of Agriculture has banned the sale of conventional (non-GMO) rice seeds which US officials have discovered to contain traces of the GMO Bayer LL601, which is not approved for cultivation even in the US.

"The rest of the world is rejecting GMO rice. But here's the BPI and the DA entertaining Bayer's GMO rice LL62 application in the Philippines. They must be crazy. This is rice we're talking about--it's our most precious food," said Ocampo.

"We all have the right to demand that the DA abandon all plans to introduce GMO rice into our country. It's time for us to stand up for our rice."

Greenpeace campaigns for GMO-free crop and food production that is grounded in 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.


3.Rice! a Matter of life and Death
WORA Feature
26 March 2007

From struggles to save rice lands, to asserting farmers rights and livelihoods, and challenging the IRRI and GE rice onslaught, peoples' movements and citizens groups are on the move against the injustices facing rice growing communities during the Week of Rice Action (WORA)

"The people are not supposed to get bullets but to cultivate their rice lands and feed themselves and their families in peace. We cannot stand alone anymore as the human rights violations continue. We will continue to highlight the people's struggles so their blood will not be in vain and that ultimately they will win the battle," asserted Biplap Halim in reaction to the attacks against the peasant community of Nandigram, East Midnapore District in West Bengal, where police opened fire on them on March 14, 2007.

The villagers had taken control of the disputed area-designated a 'forbidden zone' since January this year. During the incident police moved in to retake the area by encircling it from three sides: at Chandipur, Tekhali bridge and the Bhangabera bridge. The villagers had gathered at several points to resist them, resulting in the shootout in which some 20 peasant farmers were killed-a number of them women-and more than 200 people injured in Nandigram.

How Indian Rice Farmers are Dying in the Name of Development

On July 31, 2006 the West Bengal Government signed an agreement with Indonesia’' Salim Group which is closely associated with the former Indonesian dictator Suharto, to implement developmental projects, including a chemical industrial estate to be spread over 10,000 acres in a 50:50 joint venture. In the deal, the Government will acquire around 20,000 acres of rice farming land in Nandigram for the development of a chemical hub. The move is expected to displace some 300,000 farmers who were served eviction notices earlier this year. In response the farmers launched widespread protests against government attempts to take over their farm lands, and had prevented the entry of police and other officials into the area.

The community is being offered meager compensation for their lands. They however refuse to sellout, and have instead organised themselves under the banner of 'Save the Rice Farm Land Committee' to resist the move.

Biplap Halim, Co-founder and Executive Director of Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (IMSE), also explained that, "The struggle in Nandigram is not an isolated case. It is similar to that of Singur where rice lands had also been forcibly taken away from the people."

In Singur more than 15,000 rice farmers have lost their livelihood when about 1,000 acres of multi-cropping fertile rice lands were handed over to TATA by the state government for the construction of a car manufacturing plant. In September last year TATA moved in and destroyed the crop and fenced the area with the help of police. When the rice farmers protested, the government unleashed a series of brutal attacks on the people in response. Houses were burnt down, children and women ruthlessly beaten up and the place turned into an inferno.

Biplap elaborated how Nandigram and Singur have been designated as Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and by the end of 2007 there will be a total of six in West Bengal.1 "This move would destroy the livelihood of thousands of rice farmers who do not have the skills to work in the industries as they only know how to cultivate the land," he stated. Moreover he said those who took up employment in the factories will not have rights as the SEZs were subject to different regulations, and are effectively 'immune' from the law of the country.

"It is now more crucial than ever for us to seek help from outside, and to get a united voice all over the world to help the peasant farmers in both Singur and Nandigram who were being forcibly evicted from their lands by the West Bengal Government" asserts Biplap. Their lands had been given over to multi-national corporations for the establishment of development projects. "But the type of development in these zones which includes car manufacturing, entertainment parks, shopping malls and tourists resorts, does not mean anything to the people who are struggling for their meals, have no safe drinking water, and cannot send their children to school, or afford treatment in hospitals," he added.

Biplap said an international platform was needed to build public opinion and support for the peasants of Singur and Nandigram, and that the Week of Rice Action (WORA) will be significant in highlighting and raising these issues worldwide. WORA events are being organised in Kolkata on 2nd of April, 2007.

He said a video was being made on the peoples' struggles, and great support had been garnered internationally with the visit to the area by support groups, on-line petition signing, appeal letters to the Government, fact-finding missions and the holding of an International Peoples' Tribunal in January this year, which heard the testimonies of the farmers. He said however the Government was not heeding all this and had even ignored the Judgement by the Tribunal to restore the agricultural land to the rice farmers. It is bent on implementing the projects and destroying the livelihood of the peasants.

He also pledged that IMSE, which operates in the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa working to uplift the living standard of the poor rural population and to champion social justice, and comprises some 165 activists and several international volunteers, will continue to support the villagers in their struggle until they were victorious in reclaiming their lands.

Of Malaysia's Disappearing Rice Farmers and the Threat of GE

Indrani Thuraisingham, Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (FOMCA), is extremely concerned about the state of rice farmers, and rice cultivation in Malaysia. The mechanisation of rice farms has taken place since 1997 in a bid by the Government to revitalise the agricultural sector, but the move has resulted in a rural urban migration of the small farmers, as there had been no concerted programme to absorb them into any other sector.

Indrani, who is also Secretary General of ERA Consumer, said this shift had resulted in dwindling numbers of total agricultural workers as well as that of rice farmers. She elaborated that in 1995 there were 1.5 million farmers and by 2010 the numbers were expected to be about 980,000. The number of rice farmers dropped significantly by about 47 percent from 1999 when there were 296,000 farmers whilst in 2005 only 155,961 remained.

"Rice farming is becoming more an industry with the involvement of the private sector than a way of life. With the introduction of hi-technology on farms including the introduction of biotechnology in the country, our concern is that it might be a matter of time before Malaysians end up eating GE rice", she said.

Indrani said FOMCA's concern was for the safety of consumers who have a right to information as well as the right to a healthy environment. "There was a push by biotech companies to invest in the country, however we are unsure of these kinds of technology and the safety aspects as there is no assessment done on the risks to health and the environment."

She said FOMCA was pushing for the implementation of the Bio-Safety Law which would regulate genetically modified (GMO) food being sold in Malaysia. She said that Malaysia was importing soya beans from the United States but because there are no labeling laws, people have no idea if the soya is genetically modified (GM) as between 65 and 75 percent of soya beans in the US are GM products.

"We have a right to know what we are consuming and whether it is GM, and the risks involved in consuming this kind of food," she stated, adding that this information was critical in view of the fact that the incidence of diseases such as cancer and diabetes were high in Malaysia.

She said that WORA was important for the consumers' movement to educate consumers on this issue as rice was the staple diet of the people. Rice should be produced in a culturally suitable way and consumers should have information on genetically engineered (GE) rice which may be introduced in the not so distant future.

She said in conjunction with WORA, FOMCA was looking at the Safe Food component of the 5 rice pillars with respect to consumers2. It had slotted two seminars focusing on GE rice on April 5 and 6, which would coincide with the launch of National Consumers Day. The seminars will be held for the general public as well as for policy makers and the academia respectively and will feature talks by Dr. Michael Hansen a scientist from the U.S. Consumers Union who will focus on GE and the risks, and an Imam from the Philippines who will speak on the halal aspect of GE.

She said the discussion with the academia, policy makers and enforcement agencies will be more in depth and will highlight the importance of labelling and adopting a precautionary stance in using new technologies even though the biotechnology companies are saying there are no apparent risks.

She said the academia had an important role to play in carrying out independent research in GM technologies, whilst policy makers should also make decisions in allowing labelling and regulations to ensure that the risk assessment is done in a fair manner and that ultimately consumers can make an informed choice and decision.

"Our rice farmers must be protected at all costs for the sake of national sovereignty and of national security. We must have our own food producers produce our own food domestically. We cannot allow other countries to dictate to us especially on matters of food, particularly rice which is our staple food," stated Indrani in relation to Malaysia's free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with the U.S.

Indrani concluded that she hoped that the Malaysian Government would keep to its stance to continue to protect the rice farmers by not lowering the trade tariffs as the U.S. wanted to import more rice into the country.

Taking on IRRI, political killing of farmers, food dumping and unfair trade policies in the Philippines

Congressman Rafael Mariano, Party list member of ANAKPAWIS and peasant leader of the KMP, the largest peasant movement in the Philippines, has been taking on the political establishment in his country for a few years now. The struggle for justice for millions of Filipino farmers lies at the very heart of his agenda, and he is well placed for this as he was for many years a rice farmer. He has also taken on the institutions and policies that perpetuate rural poverty and marginalisation of peasants in his country.

"The solution by the Government should be to strengthen the local rice production, help farmers caught up in indebtedness to landlords, allow farmers to have the free choice to use any kind of rice variety, promote diverse varieties and give credit support and fair market pricing to the farmers but this is not being done."

He stressed that instead of strengthening the local food production, the Government was spending more than 25 billion pesos for rice importation-now making the Philippines the biggest rice importer and this had resulted in a huge financial drain to the country.

He asserted that farmers who had been resisting the Government because of its lack of support have fallen victim to harassment, political killings and other forms of human rights violations and WORA was timely to highlight this to the world.3 "We want to expose the anti-peasant policies and institutions like WTO and its unfair trade policies which allowed food crops to be dumped in the country thus affecting the domestic market."

He added, "The mandate should be how to support the rice farmers by infusing more investment for infrastructure, credit as well as subsidy and not importing rice." "The Philippines was a major rice exporter in the l970s but since joining the WTO and committing to the AoA, rice importation has been ever increasing. The volume of imports destroyed local rice production and depressed farm gate prices for rice farmers making the Philippines one of the world’s leading rice importers now", he concluded.

Lambasting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as a "monumental irony", Congressman Rafael explained that despite all the funding and awards it has received to carry out research more and more people are hungry and living in abject poverty, and in indebtedness whilst rice lands are being converted to golf courses, commercial centres and other non food production activities.

''IRRI's introduction of high yielding rice varieties (HYVs), which were in fact high input varieties (HIVs), resulted in high yields initially. However the high input cost of chemical fertilizers for planting the varieties led to diminishing incomes of the small farmers, forcing them to abandon their rice farms and seek part-time work elsewhere, borrow money or become migrant workers," explains Congressman Rafael.

Referring to the recent award made to IRRI to the tune of US$600,000 a year in funding by the Global Crop Diversity Trust based in Rome, Congressman Rafael said any advancement in scientific technology should benefit the farmers instead of making them poorer.

IRRI had sparked the Green Revolution in the l960s with the use of the HIVs and initially claims were that this agricultural breakthrough rescued millions of Asians from famine and poverty. But several decades into the Green Revolution, poverty in predominantly rural Asia has worsened. Because IRRI's HIVs required vast amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the average Filipino farmer tilling a quarter hectare rice field is now earning only 8.50 Philippines pesos per day compared to 23 pesos per day in l990.

WORA will culminate in the Philippines on 3rd April, 2007.

The Week of Rice Action (WORA) is organised by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) and its partner organisations in thirteen countries in the region. Anyone interested in being a part of WORA 2007 can log on to the WORA page at www.panap.net

Contact at PAN AP:
Ms Anne Haslam, PAN AP at [email protected] Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), P.O. Box 1170, 10850 Penang, Malaysia.
Tel: 604-6570271 or 604-6560381
Fax: 604-6583960
E-mail: [email protected]
Home Page: www.panap.net

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a global network working to eliminate the human and environmental harm caused by pesticides and to promote biodiversity based ecological agriculture. PAN Asia and the Pacific is committed to the empowerment of people especially women, agricultural workers, peasant and indigenous farmers. We are dedicated to protect the safety and health of people, and the environment from pesticide use and genetic engineering. We believe in a people-centered, pro-women development through food sovereignty, ecological agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.


1. Biplap Halim was attending PAN AP’s Task Force meeting on Food Sovereignty and Ecological Agriculture when he received news of the Nandigram massacre. Members of the 3rd Task Force meeting immediately passed a resolution condemning the incident, demanding that the West Bengal Government stop the killings and respect and uphold human rights. The resolution will be sent to the West Bengal Government and to the press. For the Online Petition Letter On Massacre In Nandigram, and more information on the Singur see PAN AP website: http://www.panap.net

2. For More on the 5 Pillars of Rice Wisdom see PAN AP Rice campaign webpage at: http://www.panap.net/11.0.html

3. For the Online Petition Letter To Stop Extra-Judicial Killings Of Filipino Peasants And Peasant Advocates, and related news see PAN AP website: http://www.panap.net/69.0.html?&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[pointer]=11


4.Rice commission adopts moratorium on GM rice testing
California industry wants opportunity to look at federal rules
Elizabeth Larson Capital Press, 23 March 2007

Reacting to concerns about findings of genetically engineered rice in long grain rice seed in areas outside of California, the board of the California Rice Commission last week voted to support a moratorium on field testing of genetically modified rice cultivars.

The decision came at the commission's board meeting March 14, according to California Rice Commission spokesperson Beth Horan.

The moratorium's language specifies that it applies to "field testing of all genetically modified rice cultivars in the state of California for the 2007 crop and for future crops, until such time as research protocol and safeguards are acceptable to the California Rice Commission."

Horan said it's the industry's position that a moratorium on field testing in California would allow for an opportunity to evaluate federal regulations that safeguard the rice industry.

In August, genetically modified rice traits were discovered in long grain rice produced in the south, Horan reported, which caused the California rice industry to undertake "a comprehensive review of the impacts on markets and potential impacts on commercially grown rice in the state."

In recent weeks, Horan said, two additional genetically modified traits had been discovered in a variety of long grain rice, which led to the commission board's decision.

"Based on the events of the last few months, it is clear that the federal regulatory process is not working for rice," said Frank Rehermann, chair of the commission board and a rice producer in Live Oak. "It is imperative that those systems are evaluated and approved."

Horan said none of the events in question are present in California and commercial production of genetically modified rice is currently not occurring in California or elsewhere in the U.S.

The commission's advisory board, authorized by the California Rice Certification Act, also adopted the requirement that all California rice variety owners submit samples for laboratory testing and confirm a non detect status to approve those varieties for production in California during the 2007 crop year, Horan reported.

California already has the strongest body of law in the U.S. to address market concerns, Horan said.

The California Rice Certification Act, passed in 2000, provides direction and establishes measures that enable the industry to regulate new rice variety introductions and research within the state.

Greg Massa, who grows both conventional and organic rice in the Sacramento Valley, said he was pleased with the commission's decision.

Massa is co-chairman of Rice Producers of California, which in February released a report that found that California's rice industry could lose export markets worth over $200 million dollars in the event that genetically modified rice is produced commercially.

"RPC has been calling for a moratorium for a year and a half now, so we're very pleased that the commission voted to do this," he said.

A genetically modified contamination event in California, such as those that have happened in the South, could damage or lose the export markets, said Massa.

He said export markets have already expressed concerns about genetically modified food.

"I think California rice is very vulnerable," he said.

"The south is really having a hard time right now, but it would be orders of magnitude higher here in California," Massa added.

Massa said RPC would like to see patent holders held responsible when their products contaminate other crops. He said that includes liability protection for farmers, who he said shouldn't be left holding the bag.

As the industry is taking steps to protect itself, state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, has introduced a bill to address liability issues of genetically modified contamination.

Assembly Bill 541, introduced Feb. 21, states that any release that results in damages in excess of $3,500 in a calendar year would subject the material's manufacturer to liability for resulting damages, according to the Legislative Counsel's Digest bill analysis.

The bill also would require anyone planning on growing genetically modified crops to notify the agricultural commissioner of the county where the crop would be grown. In turn, agricultural commissioners will be required to include in their annual county crop reports the types of genetically modified crops grown in their county, how many acres of the crops are grown and their genetic traits.

Huffman's bill also would prohibit producing of pharmaceutical crops in open field production.

"We're looking very seriously at that bill," Massa said.

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