By Rosalie Ellasus: San Jacinto, Philippines
Judges almost took away our food and our farms.
This year’s growing season here in the Philippines is near its end, and once again we faced all of the usual challenges of pests, weeds, and weather.
What we didn’t expect was a surprise attack from our country’s top court.
The good news is that we appear to have dodged a big threat to our food security. The government just adopted new rules on genetically modified food that will allow farmers like me to continue our proven practices.
Nothing was inevitable after the Supreme Court’s order in December to stop issuing new permits for planting and importing GMOs—and the scuffle worries me about the future of GMOs not just in the Philippines, but in other developing nations as well.
I’ve grown GMO corn for more than a dozen years, ever since our government approved its commercialization in 2003. This excellent crop transformed my life. Protected from pests, my yields went up, allowing me to sell more food. The quality of my corn improved, so I earned better prices and satisfied more customers. My use of pesticides and fungicides went down, helping me avoid some of the health risks associated with old-fashioned farming.
My quality of life rose as well. Although I found myself unexpectedly widowed, I managed to send my sons to college. I couldn’t have done it without the introduction of GMOs to agriculture.
I also became a champion of this technology. I’ve traveled around my country as well as around the world, describing the benefits of GMOs for both farmers and consumers, telling them about my personal experience.
People who are new to GMOs often wonder about their safety. I tell them with full confidence that modern science has proven GMOs to be completely safe. My personal experience with the cultivation of these crops reveals the same.
GMO foods have generated only one bad effect: Lies from groups like Greenpeace, in the grip of a close-minded fervor.
If these activists were to spend any real time on farms in developing countries, struggling to eke out a living in places where we can’t take our next meal for granted, perhaps they’d open their eyes to the benefits of GMOs. These crops have improved our food security, our health, our environment, and our economy.
Yet Greenpeace doesn’t care about such things—and its legal complaint against GMOs found a hearing among the justices of our Supreme Court in Manila. With its anti-GMO order, the court threw our farms into disarray.
The ruling made me anxious and furious—anxious because I feared for my country’s food security, and furious because the court lacked an understanding of what science tells us about GMOs as well as an appreciation for how farmers fight to make a living and feed the world.
The government’s new rules on transparency, adopted in March, appear to have satisfied the court for now. Yet Greenpeace doesn’t seek mere transparency. It wants to wipe out GMOs entirely, whatever the consequences, and it has warned of more litigation.
Many developing countries have looked to the Philippines for leadership on GMOs, seeing our rules and regulations as a potential model. On a recent visit to Bangladesh, I learned about efforts to commercialize GMO brinjal (known as talong in the Philippines and eggplant in the United States). I also saw that the positive experience of Filipinos with GMO corn has encouraged the supporters of this promising crop.
Now the world has witnessed our vulnerability. If angry protestors file a legal action and get a few judges to agree with them, they can endanger a safe and established method of food production, without regard to what it means for the livelihood of farmers or the availability of food for consumers.
That’s the pessimist in me—but I prefer hope to despair.
So the optimist in me thinks that perhaps something good will come of this turmoil. We cried out in opposition to the trickery of Greenpeace and the ruling of the court—and in the end, our government heard us. So maybe we will have educated people about the importance of GMOs and be better off for it.
We’re going to keep on planting GMOs—and we’ll stand up to anyone who tries to stop us.
Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer and public servant, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines. Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration plot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from. She is a member of the Global Farmer Network.