KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Anti-Gmo/Bt Corn Protesters End Hunger Strike
Philippine activists protesting the commercialisation of Bt corn in the country ended their indefinite hunger strike on 21 May. Reported by LIBAY LINSANGAN CANTOR in WE! May 2003 issue no. 3
The end of the hunger strike does not signify that anti-GMO protesters have failed, said protest leader Roberto Verzola, who is a member of Philippine Greens, an environmental non-government organisation (NGO). In a statement read at the last day of the strike, Verzola said that more than the strikers, the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo failed Filipino people by again bowing down to multinational powers like Monsanto and ignoring the welfare of farmers and the Filipino people in general.
The Philippine protest started on Earth Day, 22 April 2003. It was organised by the Network Opposed to GMOs (NO GMO) which is comprised of several NGOs working with different sectors (farmers' groups and environmental groups, among others) who believe that GMOs have harmful effects not only on the environment but also on people's health. The protesters were calling for a moratorium on the distribution and propagation of genetically modified corn from Monsanto until more conclusive evidence can be produced to show the benefits of the Bt corn in the environment and in humans. The strikers were camped outside the Department of Agriculture building along Quezon Elliptical Circle in Quezon City, Philippines.
Bt corn is a genetically engineered variety with the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium inserted in its DNA structure. The Bt bacterium produces a toxin that can kill the corn borer, one of the pests infecting corn. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium found in the soil and was originally isolated by scientists for the manufacture of Bt spray, a kind of environmentally-sound pesticide used in times of high insect infestation. Essentially, Bt corn produces its own toxin to kill corn borers "naturally." However, initial studies worldwide conclude that corn borers can develop resistance to the Bt toxin over time, and the injection of the Bt bacterium in corn does not necessarily mean it can kill other types of insects and pests aside from the corn borer. And because there is a toxin involved in Bt corn, scientists are wary of its long-term effects when ingested by humans. The patent of the Bt corn variety to be introduced in the country is owned by the U.S. multinational Monsanto, which has gained a negative reputation among civil society environmental organisations as the main proponent of agricultural products with GMO.
Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. held two dialogues with the strikers but remained non-committal to the moratorium. On the last week of the protest, the strikers were still waiting for a final dialogue with Lorenzo and hopefully, President Arroyo. Both however, flew out of the country to attend the state dinner hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush. According to the strikers, Arroyo and Lorenzo did not send word on the final dialogues or if they were even interested to face the hunger strikers.
With the other strikers, Verzola started a 24-hour indignation fast on 20 May, which culminated on the same day the hunger strike ended.
A press conference was held on 21 May where NO GMO supporters showed up for solidarity. Three Congress representatives also attended the press conference, shared some of their thoughts on the issue as well as pledged their support to take the fight to the Philippine Senate. To signify the end of the protest, other NGO workers and representatives gave the strikers a share of corn soup made from organically grown local corn. They also handed out organically grown corn cobs to protest supporters.
Verzola and the strikers said that their protest action was successful in a way because it brought nationwide attention to the issue of Bt corn and genetically-modified food. The strike also garnered international attention and support.
For more information on the protest against the distribution and propagation
of Bt corn, please contact the following organisations:
SOUTH EAST ASIA REGIONAL INITIATIVES FOR COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT (SEARICE)
UNIT 331, EAGLE COURT CONDOMINIUM, 26 MATALINO STREET, BRGY. CENTRAL DISTRICT, DILIMAN, QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES
WEB SITE http://www.searice.org.ph/index.htm
E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
GREENPEACE SOUTHEAST ASIA (PHILIPPINES)
UNIT 329, EAGLE COURT CONDOMINIUM [SAME AS SEARICE ABOVE]
WEB SITE http://www.greenpeacesoutheastasia.org/en/