- Across vast tracts of the Philippines, farmers are adapting their farming methods to withstand climate change. They're producing food in times of drought and typhoons through resilient forms of ecological agriculture. Meanwhile some scientists are saying ‘wait, we’ll feed you eventually with a form of rice that has not yet been grown outside of a highly controlled research environment’. It’s known as GE ‘Golden’ rice, but it’s far from golden as the name tries to suggest. It has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. Even its developer, the International Rice Research Institute, has admitted there is no proof that it will address Vitamin A Deficiency responsible for widespread malnutrition. So in the absence of a promised ‘solution’ from the advocates of genetic engineering, farmers in the Philippines - where ‘Golden’ rice is being researched - are getting their hands dirty producing food that actually feeds families and will equip them to withstand the effects of climate change.
So when we are accused of blocking the development of ‘Golden’ rice by a group of scientists, we can only point to the facts: there is no ‘Golden’ rice. It is a likely dead end. A failed, expensive experiment. Instead, what the Philippines needs, and millions of farmers across the world, is support they can use. This is not just our opinion, but the view of scientists with considerable experience of the issue and who have published their findings in the peer reviewed scientific literature.
It is no coincidence that in the run-up to an important decision on GE food labelling in the US state of Vermont, that the issue of ‘Golden’ rice has been raised again. Golden rice has been the poster child of the GE lobby groups keen to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops.
The Greenpeace campaign for ecological food and farming is built on rigorous scientific analysis, supported by extensive internal discussions and developed in consultation with external experts. The solutions we campaign for are science-based and proven in theory and practice. We campaign against an introduction of GE crops, pesticides and other chemicals in the industrial farming system and promote an ecological farming model that works with biodiversity and respect for planetary boundaries to support sustainable food production.
Today we have been challenged by a diverse group of scientists, a group with which Greenpeace has a fundamental difference of perspective. This group of scientists appears to be perpetuating a myth. Other scientists have assessed agriculture and food production in a more multidisciplinary way. Agriculture is not solely a technological activity with a pure focus on high yields. Agricultural fields harbor biodiversity, they serve as a source of clean water and rural areas should be a place for thriving and sustainable economies.
Development, use and effectiveness of technologies such as GE should not be assessed from a one-sided perspective – in this case a historically deeply embedded and technocratic perspective of western scientists. In analysing GE in a multidisciplinary way, as 400 agricultural experts of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science Knowledge and Technology for Development (IAASTD) did in 2008, it is clear that GE crops will not solve the urgent issues of climate resilience, ecological impacts and food insecurity. Instead, the use of GE crops leads to new problems from pesticide use, to the market dominance of a few powerful companies and generates some fundamental doubts concerning our ability to feed the world’s population if this highly technological paradigm persists
So rather than support a costly experiment such as ‘Golden’ rice that has failed to produce results for the past 20 years and which has diverted attention from methods that already work, the world’s scientists should focus instead on climate proofing global agriculture. We need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and a shift to climate resilient eco-agriculture.
Sound and ethical science clearly shows it would be irresponsible to impose GE ‘Golden’ rice as a quick-fix remedy to people on the frontlines of climate change. It doesn’t work.
Droughts and typhoons in the Philippines will not wait – and Filipino farmers don’t have time to wait for a golden goose. There are safe and effective options already available to help farmers feed their communities and there’s a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours.
Greenpeace is campaigning for a paradigm shift, a transition, from industrial agriculture to ecological farming. A food system based on diversity instead of endless monocultures of crops with high chemicals inputs. A model which works with nature, instead of against it. This agroecological model is backed by independent scientists, farmers, communities and consumers all over the world. Modern GE-free smart breeding technologies are a part of the solution. A technology such as marker assisted breeding enables breeders to identify crops with beneficial traits – such as increased vitamin or mineral content, climate resilience, or resistance against plant diseases. It’s happening, on the field, with far bigger effectiveness to solve the urgent crises agriculture and food production than GE so far has shown, with lower costs, both economically as for the environment.
Herman van Bekkem is Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands and Wilhelmina Pelegrina is Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaign Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.