BANGKOK - A coalition of 17 organisations from across Asia today issued a World Food Day statement calling for a global ban on the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) rice.
"Rice is the world's most important staple food crop and we simply cannot allow a small number of biotech companies and GE scientists to determine the future of rice development," said Varoonvarn Svangsopakul of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. "GE rice is not a solution to world hunger. It poses unacceptable risks to health and the environment, as well as people's livelihoods."
The aggressive push from biotechnology companies wanting to introduce GE rice in Asia is facing increasing criticism from civil society organisations concerned about negative impacts on farmers, on the environment, health and agricultural sustainability.
The theme of this year's World Food Day sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is Agriculture and intercultural dialogue - celebrating the contribution of different cultures to world agriculture.
"GE rice poses threats to the centre of origin and diversity of rice in Asia, as well as the cultural diversity of rice-growing communities across the region. The introduction of GE rice is contradictory to the theme of this year's World Food Day celebration," said Dr Suman Sahai from Gene Campaign, India.
"The real way forward for sustainable agriculture and solution for hunger is through the protection and use of biodiversity rather than genetic engineering, and the promotion of ecological agriculture based on the traditional knowledge of farming communities," said Paul Borja, SEARICE, based in the Philippines.
"Bangladesh farmers have a long tradition of maintaining local rice diversity and they are resisting Syngenta's move to introduce Golden Rice," said Palash Baral, from UBINIG Bangladesh.
"With breeding and growing local rice varieties, Thailand farmers are able to enjoy nutritious food and stabilize their income," said Supanee Taneewut, RRAFA, Thailand.
Following a 2-day meeting outside Bangkok, representatives from 10 rice growing countries wearing traditional dresses will today deliver the GE-Free Rice Declaration to the FAO headquarters in Bangkok, along with a collection of rice varieties as a demonstration of the importance of maintaining rice diversity.
In the declaration, the group called for a ban on the development and cultivation of GE rice, and called upon the FAO to cease support for GE crops, and to instead support the development of sustainable, ecologically sound farming systems."
GE-Free Rice Declaration
Supanburi, Thailand, October 14th, 2005
We the participants representing organisations from 10 rice growing countries across Asia, having come together for a discussion on rice and genetic engineering, hereby declare that:
1. Rice is the world's most important staple food crop and forms the basis of the diet for over 3 billion people. It has played a central role in the cultural, social and spiritual life of communities throughout Asia for thousands of years;
2. Tens of thousands of rice varieties have been developed by farmers over millennia and farmers continue to develop and breed new varieties adapted to diverse ecosystems, economic and cultural requirements. GE rice threatens to undermine this diversity;
3. Women play a significant role in the conservation and development of seeds and as holders of traditional knowledge. With the advent of GE crops the role of indigenous knowledge and community led farming systems is likely to be destroyed;
4. GE rice cannot be a solution to hunger since the causes of hunger are the lack of access to productive resources to produce food, or lack of income to buy food.
5. Genetically engineered rice poses unacceptable risks to human and animal health and to the environment, particularly the contamination of gene pools in the centres of origin and diversity of rice in Asia;
6. The segregation of genetically engineered from non-genetically engineered rice cannot be implemented. Therefore co-existence is impossible;
7. The undue influence of transnational corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta on international agricultural production, trade and policies serves to undermine local access to food and the right of peoples and nations to democratically determine the use of their food resources;
8. Corporate influence is further directing public sector agricultural research away from public and towards commercial interests;
9. The future of our world's most important staple food crop will be secured through the protection and use of biodiversity rather than genetic engineering, and through ecological agriculture based on the traditional knowledge of farming communities;
For World Food Day 2005, we therefore call for a ban on the development and cultivation of genetically engineered rice, and call upon the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to cease support for genetically engineered crops and food, and to instead support comprehensive research and development of sustainable, ecologically sound farming systems.
Biotani Indonesia Foundation
Cenesta (Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment), Iran Consumers' Association of Penang, Malaysia Friends of the Earth Malaysia / Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) Gita Pertiwi Foundation, Indonesia Gene Campaign, India Green Net, Thailand Greenpeace Khao Kwan Foundation, Thailand No! GMO Campaign, Japan Save Our Rice Campaign (PAN AP) Reclaiming Rural Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Action (RRAFA) Thailand South East Asian Council for Food Security and Fair Trade (SEACON) Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) Third World Network (TWN) UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative), Bangladesh VECO Vietnam