MANILA, APRIL 25, 2008
(MALAYA) BY GERARD NAVAL - Genetically altered strains reported by Greenpeace.

THE Catholic Church was a willing partner of government in the distribution of subsidized rice to poor communities until Greenpeace reported yesterday that two rice varieties contaminated with genetically modified organisms have again slipped into the country.

Greenpeace said the US long grain rice that the National Food Authority is selling in public markets could be among those affected by the "massive US GMO long grain rice contamination scandals since 2006."

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said his diocese’s social action arm would refuse to sell US rice because of health concerns.

"We will not accept any US rice allocation because they may contain GMOs that could pose some possible health hazards later on. We’ll just have the cheap but safe rice," he said.

The US rice is being sold for P25 a kilo. The NFA’s regular rice is sold at P18.25 a kilo.

Gutierrez said only the rice imported by government from Vietnam or Thailand will be sold in the "Bigasan sa Parokya" stores in his diocese.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales said: "Ang tao ay nagugutom. Dapat ay pakainin basta sigurado na hindi ito nakalalason."

Fr. Mar Castillo, coordinator of Caritas Manila, said: "Kung hindi kami sure na talagang safe yung bigas, di rin namin ibebenta. Dapat may approval muna sa Bureau of Food and Drugs. Baka naman kasi mapahamak ang mga kababayan natin."

Castillo also said they are looking for ways to lower rice prices to further help the poor.

Rosales said this is where the Pondo ng Pinoy, a fund drive campaign which he started in 2004, could be helpful to the public.

The NFA said it is not importing GMO rice.

"We are quite strict on that. So far, the tests are negative," said NFA administrator Jessup Navarro said.

"We are not accepting GM rice. That’s why we have the Bureau of Plant Industry. All food products which enter the country, not only rice, are quarantined to check and ensure its quality," he added.

Greenpeace said tests it has commissioned detected the presence of GMOs in two imported US long grain rice brands – Blue Ribbon Texas and Riceland Arkansas – which it said are sold in S&R supermarkets.

Texas and Arkansas US long grain varieties are among the rice supplies identified by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in August 2006 as having been "massively tainted" by the experimental GMO rice strain LL601 produced by Bayer, Greenpeace said.

Blue Ribbon rice samples tested positive for LL601 contamination, but the exact GMO strain in Riceland is yet to be determined.

Both rice varieties were able to enter the Philippines apparently undetected and unregulated by the agriculture department, it said.

Greenpeace said GMO Bayer LL601, which was responsible for the contamination, was an experimental variety whose research was abandoned in 2001 and which was never commercialized for undisclosed reasons.

Since 2006, this experimental variety was found in at least 30 countries, many of which, including the European Union, Russia, Japan, and the Philippines have responded with import restrictions.

"The said GMO rice strain has never been completely eradicated from US rice supplies, and remains to this day. In fact, from 2006 to 2008, 23 shipments of US rice to Europe, certified GMO-free by US labs, were rejected by the importing countries after European tests confirmed GMO content," Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace is campaigning for GMO-free crop and food production grounded on the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity, and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food.

Genetic-engineering, according to Greenpeace, "is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity, and poses unacceptable risks to health."

Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic engineering campaigner, said it has challenged the NFA to conduct further and more stringent tests on the 44,000 metric tons of rice that arrived from the US last February. The shipment of US long grain rice, it said, "is also a GMO risk."

"The NFA should have had ample time to run stringent tests on the rice before it was distributed. Unfortunately, their neglect has foisted rice, whose safety is still questionable, on an unsuspecting population," he said.

"This is the second time Greenpeace has discovered illegal GMO rice in the country. And, as usual, the DA was unable to detect its entry into our rice supply... The lax attitude toward these unsafe, experimental crops betrays the DA’s pro-GMO bias, which, unless rectified, would ultimately endanger Filipino consumers and farmers," he added.

Ocampo said the rice crisis should not to be used as an excuse to neglect regulations governing GMOs, especially because there are other sources of GMO-free rice.

"GMOs threaten biodiversity, food security, farmers’ livelihoods, and consumer health. The DA should come clean and plainly state that their commitment to protect the integrity of our rice supply is also a commitment to keep rice GMO-free," he said. – With Randy Nobleza

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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