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Friday, September 13, 2013

Cursed, Part 2--The Case Against GMOs

It turns out that these “rice farmers” weren't actually what they say they were; they were actually misguided activists who moronically believe that food crops that carry the tag “GM” (genetically modified) are automatically bad.
The rice plants that were destroyed were “endowed with a gene from cornand another from a bacterium, making it the only variety in existence toproduce beta carotene, the source of vitamin A. Its developers call it “Golden Rice.” If made available to people, a cup of this rice variety would provide half an adult’s daily recommended intake of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency causes the death of millions of people around the world, and could also cause blindness among children.

The vandals were members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), AnakPawis Party list, and MASIPAG, organizations that ironically style themselves as pro-farmer and pro-poor.
They were there to stage a protest versus GMOs, a protest that quickly turned into an orgy of rice plant-killing when a group broke away and destroyed the rice plants in the trial fields, to the consternation of the real farmers who witnessed the attack.  
GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have always been a target for these “environmentalists,” who think that we should all return to “traditional” or “organic” agriculture. However, isn't agriculture itself always been unnatural? Since Homo sapiens found a more efficient alternative to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle around 10,000 years ago, humans have been genetically-altering most food crops.
Take for example the banana. The “natural” form of the banana is vastly different from the banana that we enjoy today. The “genetically unmodified” banana was a tasteless, mushy fruit with large seeds, and shaped differently from the modern banana. Rice, wheat, corn, are food crops similarly far removed from their wild ancestors. Do these food crops cause illnesses?
Genetic modification, basically, is a shortcut to get the more favorable traits in a crop. Selective breeding would produce a similar result, but that would take considerably more time.
Point is, not all genetically-modified foods are harmful; nor are they made solely for the benefit of multi-national corporations, like the much-maligned Monsanto.
Genetically modified foods made it possible for a good part of humanity to exist. If the world would rely solely on “organic foods,” the food production would only be sufficient to feed about 4 billion of the world’s population. Should the rest of humanity be asked to please quietly die from hunger because there are people who think GM foods are “yucky”?
People like Norman Borlaug (the greatest man you probably never heard of) made it possible for hundreds of millions, billions even, to have something to eat. Without this man, many of us in the Third World would probably never have been born. If people need somebody to worship, idolize, and to emulate, it should be this man.
"He fed five thousand people? Noob." 
Known as the “Father of the Green Revolution,” Mr Borlaug, who also helped prevent a Malthusian scenario, had a PhD in plant pathology and genetics. He developed high-yielding and disease resistant food crops that doubled the food production in many countries around the world, in the process saving more than a billion people from starvation.
The question of whether this is a good thing for the whole world in the long run is neither here nor there. That we are alive is sufficient reason for me to consider this a good thing.
Tons of researches have been done on the safety of GM crops, and the vast majority of them say that they are safe to eat. Banning GM crops would mean condemning a good chunk of the world’s population to starvation. Moreover, GM crops still has the potential to feed many, many more—millions are still going hungry around the world.
To be fair, some criticisms of genetic modifications may not be easily dismissed as irrational rants, and these should be addressed by scientists; otherwise, the case versus GMOs would further spiral down into fear-mongering and plain disinformation. 
Indeed, the subject of GMOs is an emotional one, and anybody doing a research on the subject would be swamped by tons of literature that can be found in the internet, both pros and cons. That's why it is important that we should employ a healthy skepticism in reading about this subject, and not be swayed by slogan-spouting activists-for-hire who are nothing but vandals and thugs. 
Many say that because of Green Revolution, population explosion happened, especially in the Third World; because of this, the resulting increase in the population in this part of the world is ultimately detrimental for all of us. So basically what they're saying is that for the rest to survive, some of us have to die—by starvation, perhaps? While that may have some merit (if one thinks about it in a cold-blooded, mass-murderer, and Stalinesque way of thinking), it would be difficult for them to look for volunteers. I know I wouldn't.  
But I might know a few who would be perfect candidates.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cursed, Part 1--An Ode to Rice

Like most Asians, Filipinos love to eat rice. They eat rice at almost every meal. It’s their staple food, their go-to food, the ultimate comfort food. No Pinoy meal is complete without it.
Just as Eskimos have many words for snow, Filipinos also have several words that refer to (no, not snow) rice—they have about seven.
There’s kanin, which means cooked rice; palay—unhusked rice; bigas—husked, uncooked rice; bahaw—leftover kanin; tutong—the burnt part of kanin; binlidbigas that got crushed during the milling process; in some Visayan languages in the country's south, there’s even a term for the unhusked rice (palay) that got accidentally mixed with bigas: pasi.
They eat rice with ulam, which many Filipinos think is viand in the English language (it’s not). An ulam is any dish, usually protein, eaten in tandem with rice--it makes scarfing down platefuls of hot, steaming kanin more enjoyable. The ulam is usually strong-tasting ones like the adobo, a dish so tasty that a nibble can flavor several mouthfuls of rice.

This adobo is about ready to repent--it looks absolutely sinful.

Ulam can be vegetable, fish, or meat-based. Some even make an ulam out of pancit (fine noodles cooked with bits of meat or shrimp and vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce, and is a complete meal in itself). 
For Filipinos, meals revolve around rice. When they see an unfamiliar foreign dish, their first thought is usually, “Will that go well with rice?” And if the dish looks so mouth-watering it requires no identification, they’d exclaim, “That would be so delicious with rice!” (Ang sarap niyan sa kanin!)
To many Filipinos, all other foods are there to enhance the experience of the consumption of kanin

There are also those who say that they are not “busog” (the feeling of fullness in one’s stomach after eating a hearty meal—not just satisfied, mindthe stomach needs to be distended to get that busog feeling) if rice is not included in their meal. 
To bolster the feeling of being busog, they drink a glass or two of water after eating, after which they sigh audibly (ahhh), indicating that they are, indeed, busog.

A cold, sweating glass of water is the perfect end for a typical Filipino meal. Without it, the dining experience is incomplete. That glass of cold water is the Dorothy Boyd to the meal that is Jerry McGuire.
"You complete me."
Suffice it to say, Filipinos have almost a mystical-like veneration towards rice—wasting it is a huge no-no, and, for farmers who slog through muddy rice fields cultivating this gift from the gods, willfully destroying (gasp!) the plants that bear these life-giving grains is considered a sacrilege that merits a curse from the anitos. They call this curse, “busong.” 

This is why I am skeptical that the reported attack on genetically-modified rice plants that occurred last August 8 in an IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) research field in Bicol was indeed carried out by rice farmers. No sane rice farmer would even dream of destroying live rice plants.

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