Peasant movements in Bangladesh intensifies the fight against commercial release of Golden Rice in the country

Peasants groups and environmentalists are mobilising to protest against the commercial release of golden rice in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) along with major farmers groups held a demonstration rally on 26th February and submitted a letter to the Agriculture Minister of Bangladesh demanding to stop the commercial release of Genetically Engineered Golden Rice in the country. BAFLF and ally groups earlier in the month had declared a two month long protest activities to fight against the release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak announced in early February that cultivation of golden rice may start in the country within three months.

In 2013 Bangladesh approved the commercial cultivation of the controversial Genetically Modified Brinjal in the country that is banned in neighbouring India and many other nations. And now it is heading towards the commercial release of the Golden Rice. Bangladesh has been favoured by the GM lobby as the country does not have a stringent bio-safety law to regulate commercial cultivation of GM crops or organisms.

As Down To Earth reported in its latest article, Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.

In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.

The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh. However, all these field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies.[1]

In 2018, GRAIN released a report on the Golden Rice, it reported that “Golden Rice is a false saviour,  the delay of the commercialization of Golden Rice, and the ‘lackluster acceptance’ of the public is due to the inherent flaws and failures of both the technology and the product itself. Golden Rice is going to be useless and unlikely to achieve its objective of helping to solve (Vitamin A Deficiency) VAD if its beta-carotene is consistently low, and even prone to degradation. Yields have been consistently low, indicating that farmers might suffer economically if they choose to plant Golden Rice. Meanwhile, Golden Rice will allow corporations to set their foot at the door of our agriculture and introduce more genetically-modified food crops. Golden Rice is a techno-fix to malnutrition and a corporate ploy to control our agriculture. It is not needed by Asian people nor the world. Indeed, the solution to hunger and malnutrition lies in comprehensive approaches that ensure people have access to diverse sources of nutrition. Securing small farmers’ control over resources such as seed, appropriate technologies, water and land is the real key to improving food production and eradicating hunger and malnutrition.”[2]

Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation(BAFLF) issued a press statement on 26 Feb 2019, it states that it has submitted a four point memorandum to the agriculture minister through the District Collectorate of Gazipur, the main demands include,

1. The introduction of Golden Rice has to be stopped.
2. Trail of all GMO crops presently underway must be cancelled and commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal has to be stopped.
3. Ban on import and use of harmful chemical pesticides.
4. Update Bio Safety Rules 2012 and ensure its proper implementation.

Speaking at the protest rally, BAFLF general secratery Abdul Mazid stated that the multinational companies have targeted Bangladesh as laboratory for the trail of their GM crops and using people and farmers as guinea-pigs for their own interest. GMO crops are controversial in terms of bio safety, environment and public health. Scientists could not prove that transgenic seed will not cause biological contamination to local varieties and any risk caused by consumption of the GM food crop by humans. In view of these concerns, there are international rules and regulations in regards to the introduction of GE seeds. Those scientific and legal warnings are not followed properly in the introduction of GMO crops in Bangladesh. The main objective of the approval of Golden Rice for commercial cultivation is to serve multinational companies interest. If the Golden Rice is introduced in Bangladesh, agriculture and farmers will be severely affected, food security will be more vulnerable and will have serious effect on the food sovereignty of the communities.

Nasrin Sultana said, The multinational companies’ paid scientists and propagandists are facilitating and promoting Golden rice telling that this rice will address the problem of Vitamin-A deficiency. Golden Rice is not the right solution to eliminate Vitamin A deficiency; rather it is an ineffective solution. Compared with golden rice, sweet potato has fifty times more beta- carotene level and can be grown on non-arable land. Besides, there is a lot of vitamin-A in common fruits and vegetables that are already grown in the country. Poverty and lack of purchasing poor are major cause of malnutrition including VAD. Introducing golden rice is not proper solution to address Vitamin-A deficiency. The introduction of Company patented rice will make our agriculture production system more dependent on multinational companies and have serious impact on the traditional agricultural system. Golden Rice commercialisation equates to billions of worth corporate profit at the cost of public health, environment and farmers’ seed freedom. Government must abstain from Golden rice commercial release.

The peasant movements and civil society in Bangladesh are planning to intensify the campaign against commercial release of Golden Rice. As part of it BAFLF will organise a national consultation and if situation demands we will mobilise peasants in large numbers in the coming months said Golam Sorowor of BAFLF.

Notes :

Suggested readings :

Don’t get fooled again! Unmasking two decades of lies about Golden Rice 

False Promises, Smears and Golden Rice: Is This the Solution for Disease, Poverty and Malnutrition?

When Bt brinjal is a failure, why Golden rice?