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Greenpeace urges scientific community to amplify support for climate resilient agriculture

October 31, 2014

MANILA – Greenpeace today called on the scientific community to step up its support for ecological food production to build resilient agriculture that can meet the threat posed by climate change and ensure food diversity and nutrition security. The call was made on the final day of the 4th International Rice Congress (IRC) held this week.

Highlighting the role of non-genetically modified plant breeding technologies in producing new rice strains that can adapt to extreme and changing climate conditions, Dr. Janet Cotter, Senior Scientist at Greenpeace International’s Science Unit said:

“The International Rice Congress, a regular scientific meeting that gathers rice industry players, is tremendously important for the future of rice. It’s amazing to see so many rice traits, such as drought-tolerant and increased yield varieties, being developed through marker-assisted conventional breeding. What’s needed now is to put these traits into varieties suitable for low-input, ecological agriculture to ensure the sustainability of rice farming, and to increase its resilience to climate change.”

Cotter said that in times of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and typhoons, communities need resilient agriculture that will continue to provide food and meet their nutritional needs.

It remains difficult, however, to predict when droughts or floods will occur and while plant breeding can provide climate tolerant varieties, farmers do not always know which variety to plant. “Diversity holds the key to climate change resilient farming by providing an insurance policy against the impacts of extreme weather,” Cotter added.

In Thailand, the debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was sparked again on October 21, just a few days prior to the IRC, when the country’s Supreme Administrative Court dismissed a case filed by Greenpeace against the Department of Agriculture for negligence in the management of the department’s genetically engineered papaya field trials in Khon Kaen province in 2004.

While in the Philippines, there is growing resistance among local scientists, farmers and consumers on GMOs like ‘Golden’ Rice, created and marketed to developing countries like the Philippines as a quick-fix solution to eradicate Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) among children and solve world hunger. Despite the hype and decades of research and development, there is still no scientific proof that ‘Golden’ Rice will indeed solve VAD.

Kasarian-Kalayaan, Inc. (Sarilaya), an NGO working with women farmers, is strongly against GMOs such as ‘Golden’ Rice because they encroach upon peoples’ rights to healthy food and a healthy environment.

GMOs will only worsen, not solve the country’s food and nutrition issues. “We, at Sarilaya is for the promotion of sustainable production and consumption. We want to ensure that the next generation will live in an environment that is healthy and safe, giving importance to environmental stewardship,” said Margie Lacanilao of Sarilaya.

“Solutions to food insecurity and nutritional deficiencies are already available; including the fortification of food, Vitamin A supplementation, and diet diversification sourced from ecological agriculture. These solutions should be supported through policies that will enable farmers and the industry to pursue ecological agriculture instead of the illusion of GMOs, which will only divert resources away from solutions already available,” said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Philippines Ecological Agriculture Campaigner. “Aside from resilience to climate change, ecological agriculture ensures ecological diversity and can be a source of diverse diets that assures a healthier source of nutrients for people,” Ocampo added.

Despite the interests of some industry members in producing new genetically engineered rice strains, Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) is by far ahead of any genetically engineered rice being developed. Several rice varieties developed through MAS are already helping farmers cope with abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity.

Unlike genetic engineering, crops produced through MAS do not present risks to farmers or traders resulting from GMO contamination.