Speaking at a Greenpeace press conference, gene scientist Tushar Chakraborty said GMOs are not safe, have not been independently tested, and have not undergone long-term studies.
Following a landmark case in India last month that called for a 10-year moratorium on GMOs due to safety concerns, Dr. Chakraborty, Principal Scientist of the Gene Regulation Laboratory of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, recommended the banning of GMOs in the Philippines as the prudent, science-based approach to the uncertainties surrounding these man-made food crops.
Dr. Chakraborty is among hundreds of scientists in India who have come out in support of a ban on GMO food crops in the subcontinent. He is in Manila at the invitation of Greenpeace, as an expert witness in ongoing Writ of Kalikasan hearings at the Supreme Court, to help substantiate scientific findings that GMOs are unstable and unsafe to be planted, processed, and eaten.
“GMO technology is highly uncertain, as such, they are inherently unpredictable and irreversible,” said Dr. Chakraborty. “No short or long term study on these man-made living food crops has conclusively shown that they are safe for humans, livestock or biodiversity. And all scientific studies about the benefits of GM crops are conducted by the same companies that sell it. For this reason, scientists recommended that the Indian government immediately stop the field testing of all GMO crops.”
A scientific report commissioned by the India Supreme Court last month found that the moratorium was necessary because of the potential harm GM crops can cause to humans and the environment. They also warned of the possibility that field trials will contaminate regular crops and India’s food supply. The expert body believes that India’s current regulatory system to assess the safety of GM crops is inadequate and raises questions about the ability to safely conduct field trials.
“In India, the commercial release of Bt eggplant was banned in February 2010 after scrutiny by the scientific community. Ironically, here in the Philippines, the Department of Agriculture has been relentless in approving GMOs without the benefit of a comprehensive and objective study and analysis of safety data,” said Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Since 2002 the Philippine Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), has approved 67 GMOs for importation as food, feed and processing. Aside from Bt eggplant, there are ongoing field trials of other GMO food crops such as Bt corn, and GM papaya. But the most worrisome GMO approvals are for rice – the country’s staple food. Greenpeace has warned that the cultivation and commercialization of genetically-modified rice will spell disaster for Philippine agriculture.
Aside from the inherent dangers to health and the environment, GMOs lead to the increased use of, and resistance to, pesticide and herbicides, since most GMOs are designed to be used exclusively in tandem with same-brand chemical inputs. They also endanger the livelihoods of farmers, locking them into an industrial agriculture system that enables the monopoly of a few giant agro-chemical companies who have control of the seeds.
Greenpeace is challenging the country’s GMO regulatory system. Last April, the environment group filed a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus against Bt eggplant field trials in the Philippines. The hearings for the Writ of Continuing Mandamus are currently ongoing.
“GMOs are a major threat to our country’s food security. They are a distraction to available, safe and proven solutions,” noted Ocampo. “Greenpeace is demanding that the government cancel all GMO approvals, including experimental field trials. Instead, they should supporting ecological solutions that ensure food security and sound environment as alternatives that will guarantee a healthy, viable and sustainable agriculture to feed the country.”