(6.9.13) – One day early in August a crowd of several hundred ostensible
farmers destroyed one of the trial sites on which Golden Rice (1) was being
cultivated prior to distribution to the people who needed it (2).
The Regional Executive Director Bragas said that people at the trial site were taken by surprise. They had assembled Department of Agriculture officials and staff in the office, waiting for the group to come in and sit down for a peaceful dialogue. Instead, the militants poured into the compound, overwhelmed the police and village security, broke down a section of the fence surrounding the research area, and entered, uprooted, and trampled the crop.
Why would farmers, themselves among the beneficiaries, do such a thing? Before long suspicions were raised that it was not simply the ire of Philippine farmers, great sages of plant biotechnology though they might be and acutely sensitive to the supposed if non-existent hazards attendant on the use of Golden Rice.
The disgraceful event has provoked international condemnation. A petition to stop the destruction of field trials of GM crops has now been signed by more than 5,637 people, scientists and others from around the world (3)
Very soon, a different story began to emerge: the vandals had been paid (4). The Department of Agriculture was building a case against a group of farmers responsible for the attack The police had identified six persons from a horde of anti-GM activists, who forced their way into the DA’s experiment plot and uprooted the crops under trial. Abelardo Bragas, the Department of Agriculture Bicol regional executive director, said “I was told that (the) police identified some of them as young residents from Naga (City) paid to cause the damage. We believe none of them are farmers because farmers wouldn’t damage crops like that,”
Ten days later, Mark Lynas reported on a visit to the site (5). He learned that the crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay. The senor project manager (who had personally witnessed the attack) reported that the researchers had been expecting a rally and a dialogue with activists, he told me. A band of more than 50 split away from the main group of 300 to 400 protestors and broke down the fence around the golden rice plot. They trampled and uprooted the young rice plants across the entire plot. "You could see they were angry—it was a mob," Boncodin said. The local police were outnumbered and did not intervene.
In the local culture it is unlucky to kill a living rice plant, even if they are diseased and threaten to infect the rest of the crop. Killing rice plants is taboo.
So who were the vandals? Boncodin said “They looked like city boys, city girls. Two of them were even sporting dyed hair. ... Would you consider a farmer having dyed hair?"
Lynas thinks the attacks were organised and carried out by a number of activist groups including a self-styled “farmer-led network of people's organizations” and an extreme-left organization that promotes a conspiracy theory that golden rice is being produced to facilitate a multinational takeover of the Filipino rice market.
We await with interest the outcome of the police inquiries and the court hearing when the Philippine Department of Agriculture bring s its case against the perpetrators. Perhaps, just perhaps it was all down to exasperated farmers but it certainly does not sound like it.
1. Henry Miller (14.10.10). Golden opportunity, red tape. Daily Caller (http://dailycaller.com/2010/10/14/golden-opportunity-red-tape/)
2. Bruce Tolentino (11.8.13). Visit to vandalized Golden Rice field trial. International Rice Research Institute (http://irri.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=12640&lang=en)
3. Channa Prakash (13.8.13). Global scientific community condemns the recent destruction of field trials of Golden Rice in the Philippines. Change.org (http://www.change.org/petitions/global-scientific-community-condemns-the-recent-destruction-of-field-trials-of-golden-rice-in-the-philippines)
4. Maricar Cinco and Shiena M. Barrameda (16.8.13). DA to sue ‘paid residents, not farmers’ over destroyed GMO crops. Inquirer News (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/466525/da-to-sue-paid-residents-not-farmers-over-destroyed-gmo-crops#ixzz2c712HOsA)
5. Mark Lynas (26.8.13). The true story about who destroyed a genetically modified rice crop. Slate (http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/08/26/golden_rice_attack_in_philippines_anti_gmo_activists_lie_about_protest_and.html)