Bangladesh : Peasant movements intensifies the struggle against ‘Golden Rice’

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 had approved the commercial cultivation of the controversial Genetically Modified Brinjal in the country, which is banned in many other nations, including its immediate neighbour India. This is now being followed by 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.

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.

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 must stop
  2. Trail of all GMO crops presently underway must be cancelled and commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal must stop
  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.

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