Farmers Destroy 'Golden Rice' GMO Trials in Philippines
By Katie Rucke
Filipino farmers destroyed an 800 square meter trial plot of genetically modified rice Thursday that was just weeks away from being sent to the authorities for a safety evaluation.
The “Golden Rice” crop was genetically engineered (GE) by scientists to create an increased production of beta-carotene, which the human body converts into vitamin A. The Golden Rice project was started about 20 years ago by German researchers, who received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The group of about 400 protesters, which included local farmers and members of two anti-GMO groups—the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (KMB) and the Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan sa Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO)—said they uprooted and trampled the rice plants because they wanted to protect the health of the people and their environment.
Despite the use of genetically modified technology being highly contentious in the Philippines, researchers planted five small test plots in the country, and hoped to be able to release the crop to farmers starting in 2014.
The Philippines is the world’s fourth-largest importer of rice in the world, since the country has very limited land resources to produce the amount of rice needed. However, officials reported earlier this year that due to increased rice planting, they expected a 6 percent increase of the crop this year, which was estimated to result in the production of 18 million metric tons of rice.
Despite the limited amount of land for rice production and the fact that 89 percent of the rice is consumed, Filipino rice farmers often don’t earn enough income to support their families on that money alone.
Scientists reasoned that since there are millions of children in the developing world that have a vitamin A deficiency, which can cause blindness and increase a person’s susceptibility to disease, the vitamin A deficiency is seen as a significant problem in the world. Reports from Helen Keller International say that there are around 670,000 children that die each year around the world from a vitamin A deficiency, and about 350,000 will go blind.
Of the five experimental fields in the country, protesters reportedly destroyed just one. While there were about 30 policemen at the field trying to prevent the destruction of the crop, Bert Autor, the coordinator of Sikwal-GMO and secretary-general of the KMB, said farmers finished the job in about 15 minutes.
“They [farmers] were not able to control their emotional outburst,” Autor said in a statement, adding that the farmers were fired up by warnings from “concerned scientists and peasant leaders” about the “dangers” of the Golden Rice (or GM rice) to health and its threat to biodiversity.
Autor added that the rice “was nothing but a ploy of agrochemical transnational corporations like Syngenta to satisfy their monopoly on seeds and rake more profits.” Syngenta, the third-largest biotechnology and global chemical company in the world, owns the patent on Golden Rice.
Autor said that despite promises from officials from the Department of Agriculture that there wouldn’t be any trial fields, the trials have continued. “We are very concerned as there is news that feed testing will start this year and that the harvest will be used in these feed experiments. In China, the people have protested against the feed trials on children, prompting proponents to compensate the affected families. We do not want our people, especially our children to be used in these experiments,” he said.
“This should serve as a stern warning to those planning to conduct GM field trials in Bicol. What we need is a comprehensive and long-term solution to address hunger and malnutrition. Golden rice, and GMOs [genetically-modified organisms], in general, will only aggravate the already dire condition of the small and resource-poor farmers.”
Despite the protest and destruction of the field, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute all have said that the development of the Golden Rice crop will continue in the country, since the purpose of the genetically modified crop is to fight malnutrition.
On its website, the IRRI said the field trials were part of the organization’s work to see if the crop would be a safe and effective way to reduce vitamin A deficiencies, which mostly affect women and children.
Dr. Bruce Tolentino is the deputy director general of communications and partnerships for the IRRI. He said “Vitamin A deficiency is horrible and unnecessary, and we want to do our part to help to reduce it.”
He added that the organization was “really disappointed” the field was vandalized, but said that “This is not a major setback, because it is just one trial of a series and just one of several sites. We remain completely committed to continuing our Golden Rice research to help improve people’s nutrition.”
But despite the allegedly good-intentions of IRRI to develop the crop, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) has said there are better ways to reduce the number of people with vitamin A deficiencies than using a genetically engineered crop.
Dr. Chito Medina, convenor of Resist and Masipag (Farmer and Scientist for the Development of Agriculture) national coordinator, agreed with the protest and called for an immediate stop to all field testing of GM crops, explaining that the crops are hazardous to human health, the environment and agriculture.
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
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