Rice prices have skyrocketed from 18-25 pesos/kg to 24-32 p/kg at the local Palenke.

For farmers and workers who average 100 pesos a day (roughly two dollars), this puts a strain on their budget. So to prevent rice riots, the President is planning to allow poor people to buy subsidized food, and because of the worry about hoarding or reselling, they have asked the churches to help distribute the subsidized rice.

But many Catholic church bureaurocracy and welfare NGO’s here are full of those who toe the line of the left, and unfortuanatly, that means the radical green NGO’s, like Greenpeace who support “natural” foods and oppose artificial and “inhumane” agricultural practices, such as poultry farms, fish farms, and high yield hybrid crops.

But their most important “victory” is preventing poor people from eating food that might be “contaminated” because it was genetically modified by gene introduction and cloning instead of old fashioned crossbreeding.

Such prohibitions have resulted in many famine deaths in Zimbabwe, Zambia and other African countries, who refused food in famines, and now they are planning to proclaim a new victory: Hungry Pinoys.

As a result of political pressure, Caritas and some parishes are refusing to distribute rice from the US, because it might be “contaminated” with GM rice. And Greenpeace is planning to sue the government, just in case someone might be able to fill their stomach with rice that Americans have been eating without harm for a decade.

Hold it a second. GM rice is merely a hybrid made by adding genes so that it has more vitamins or is resistant to disease.There are a lot of philosophical and economic criticisms of genetically modified rice.

Actually, despite the “Frankenfood” label, GM rice is merely using genetics instead of crossbreeding to produce new varieties of food, something that mankind (or more probably womankind) has done since 10 000 BC, when climate change forced hunter gatherers into agriculture.

Usually the argument is “BIG BAD BUSINESS VERSUS POOR PEOPLE”.

But we’ve actually been down this road before, with the folks that opposed the “green revolution” twenty years ago.

The argument is similar to that of the original “green revolution”: That the newer hybrids require fertilizer and techniques different than traditional farming, that by introducing hybrids we end up with decreased biodiversity in crops, and that relying on one hybrid, the food crop is more prone toward a devestating famine (e.g. the potato famine in Ireland 1840) if a pest attacked it, whereas biodiverse crops would allow some strains to remain intact.

Finally, there is the argument that the green revolution impoverishes the poorest farmers at the expense of the richer more aggressive farmers.

UNESCO has a nice summary here, giving both sides of the argument.

Yet what is the question about GM rice. The claim is “safety”, yet the failure of finding harm in US consumers seems to contradict that claim. (Most of the activists seem to be from Europe).

Another  “fear” is that locals, instead of eating the grain, will plant it, resulting in …”contaminated” local crops from cross pollination. This may be true if the food aid was maize (which is often transported whole), but rice is routinely milled prior to transport.

So what is their problem?

Actually, I am a bit sympathetic to the “green” idea (our family actually sells organically grown brown rice and vegetables). I am sympathetic to living simply, and buying locally, and not destroying the environment.

What I am not sympathetic to is making this a religion or imposing it by edict.

There is no reason that mass production means that one cannot have hand crafted items, nor is there a reason to say that organic farming is the only way to farm. Even arguments that the “green revolution” harms the poorest farmers ignores that if you don’t have the more productive farmers producing surpluses, you end up with starvation, as Robert Mugabe has proved recently, copying the egalitarian practices that resulted in famines in China (1960) and the USSR (1920’s) before him.

Globalization means we have choices.

Ironically, despite all of Greenpeace and Europe’s attempt to stop the Green revolution II coming from big bad American companies, the winner will probably be China.

Already, watchdog groups in the UK have found “GM” markers in rice imported from China, and China is widely suspected to have widely planted the newer rice strains.

Of the 25 samples taken, 19 contained GM rice, modified to contain a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that produces a toxin that kills pests, said Liu Haiying, programme director for Greenpeace in Beijing.

The Chinese government, as usual, denies the claim, but I suspect it is true, and point out that a GM rice that kills pest might be preferable than spraying toxic insecticides on the rice fields.

Nevertheless, I suspect what will happen is that the PC types will continue to try to stop GM modified crops from feeding Pinoys and Africans, while Europeans are “protected” from the Frankenfoods, but Americans continue to consume the food and wonder what the F*** is wrong with these idiots.

The winner in all of this will be, of course, China…whose cheap and abundant GM rice surplus will be exported to all sorts of countries.

Ah, you might ask, what about local laws that forbid such GM rice imports?

After all, this is Asia, where the bribes are “over the table, under the table, and with the table”, so although the churches and the greens might congratulate themselves on their fight against big business, they probably won’t stop the Chinese rice from coming in with falsified papers, with true papers but bribing the inspectors, or just by being smuggled in by someone who wants to make a profit.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about humanitarian problems at Makaipa blog. 


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