Aug. 20 - The long-running debate over genetically modified rice in the Philippines has intensified, with farmers and environmentalists pitted against scientists over so-called ''Golden Rice''. The issue is now back in the headlines as both sides prepare for a government evaluation, that could determine its future. Ben Gruber has more.
Angry farmers tear down a fence and destroy an experimental rice paddy in the Philippines. They say the genetically modified rice could contaminate their own crops and put them out of business . But scientists at the International Rice Research Institute believe their "Golden Rice" will provide millions in the developing world with a much richer diet.. Institute spokesman Bruce Tolentino says the rice is genetically modified with beta carotene which boosts its Vitamin A content. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE DEPUTY DIRECTOR BRUCE TOLENTINO SAYING: "In Vitamin A-enriched rice, what the scientists did was to select three genes out of roughly 30,000 genes in our rice plant. They just took three genes and transferred those from corn into the rice. You cannot do that in traditional breeding, but with advanced biotechnology, you can do that." The institute says the golden rice is still under development but that local authorities are gathering data for submission to government regulators who will assess its safety and value as a food crop. Trixie Concepion, from the Earth Island Institute, says there a plenty of options to fight malnourishment. Golden Rice, she says, is about nothing more than corporate profit. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE PHILIPPINES SPOKESPERSON TRIXIE CONCEPCION SAYING: "There is no need for this expensive science and this expensive produce brought about by corporate science, which we believe will not benefit the local farmers. It will not benefit those who are interested in healthy food. It will not benefit the community as a whole, it will only benefit the corporations who are pushing the product, and that is the reason why they are pushing the product hard on third world countries." Critics also say that Golden Rice, and other bio-engineered foods are dangerous because the long term effects of genetic modification have not been fully investigated. But Tolentino calls those criticisms baseless. He says there's an immediate need to lower the risk of blindness and malnutrition for the estimated 1.7 million Filipino children currently suffering Vitamin A deficiency and Golden Rice he says, is a safe and effective way to do it.