BANAUE, Ifugao - The iconic Philippine Rice Terraces in Ifugao province, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site, was declared a genetically-modified organism (GMO)-Free zone. The historic declaration, which is in line with the province’s commitment to preserve the integrity of the country’s most enduring cultural symbol, was enacted by Ifugao governor Teodoro Baguilat Jr., and Banaue Mayor Lino Madchiw, with the support of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. To commemorate the declaration, Greenpeace volunteers together with local guides unfurled a giant banner with the words "GMO-Free Zone" at the World Heritage site. Baguilat, Madchiw, Cathy Untalan of Miss Earth Foundation, and Daniel Ocampo of Greenpeace Southeast Asia led ceremonies of the public unveiling of a permanent marker containing the declaration. "The Ifugao people, guardians of this living cultural heritage of humanity, shall keep the Ifugao Rice Terraces a GMO-Free Zone as it has always been for generations. The Ifugaos shall protect the Ifugao Rice Terraces from GMO contamination and other forms of interventions that would diminish the integrity and universal value of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, so that it will continue to be a living testimony of the harmonious relationship of man and nature," said Baguilat. The Ifugao Rice Terraces, with a total area of around 10,360 square kilometers, has been in existence for more than 3000 years. In 1995, it was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List as "a living cultural landscape of great beauty that exemplifies the perfect interweaving of natural and cultural values in a sustainable manner." Four municipalities and 18 barangays are covered under the World Heritage site. Ifugaos have traditionally planted rice in the terraces without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides and have freely traded seeds, among them the famous Tinawon organic rice. "The Ifugao Rice Terraces is a symbol of how the Philippines is a center of origin and biodiversity of rice, and exemplifies how rice, our most important food crop, is a unique and inherent part of our culture. This rich rice heritage, which the declaration today serves to protect, should be a source of pride for us Filipinos. GMO crops compromise this rice heritage: genetic engineering of food crops poses risks to the environment, human health, farmers’ livelihoods and consumers’ choice and should therefore be rejected," said Daniel Ocampo. Greenpeace campaigns for GMO-free crop and food production that is grounded in the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food. Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health. Greenpeace launched the ‘I love my rice GMO-free’ campaign in March 2007 with the aim to activate consumers to ‘stand up for their rice’ and to drive a movement to protect our staple.