Philippine’s National Biotechnology Week Opens Today

Philippine’s National Biotechnology Week Opens Today

The National Biotechnology Week is now open! The opening ceremonies were held at the World Trade Center in Pasay City with Senator Cynthia Villar as one of the event’s distinguished guests.

SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center & Know The Science PH joined the NBW and our booth was visited by students from various schools and universities from Batangas, Laguna, and Rizal. The visitors had fun learning about agri-biotechnology, agriculture, and science.

Stay tuned to this page for more updates!

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Dr. Randy Hautea: Global advocate for farmers and biotechnology

Dr. Randy Hautea: Global advocate for farmers and biotechnology

Dr. Randy A. Hautea dedicated his career to improving the lives of smallholder farmers, especially in developing nations.

As a plant breeder and global coordinator of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), he was committed to using biotechnology to breed crops that can help smallholder farmers succeed and ensuring that farmers have access to innovation.

“Biotechnology is one of the tools necessary in helping farmers grow more food on less land,” Dr. Hautea told a Nigerian newspaper last year. “However, the promises of biotech crops can only be unlocked if farmers are able to buy and plant these crops, following a scientific approach to regulatory reviews and approvals.”

Dr. Hautea died July 18 in the Philippines, where he resided with his wife, Desiree, who is also a plant scientist.

“I was privileged to have Randy as my student while he was earning his doctorate in plant breeding at Cornell University,” said Dr. Ronnie Coffman, director of International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS). “He was a fine researcher, with a passion for plants and a passion for helping the farmers who grow them. His dedication to advancing agriculture will be acutely missed.”

Dr. Hautea received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. degrees in agronomy and plant breeding from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños, and was a visiting scientist in agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Hautea was internationally respected for his significant contributions to the understanding and improvement of crops, especially field legumes and fibers. His research focused on breeding crops that were tolerant to various stresses and adapted to intensive cropping systems, as well as improving seed quality.

In recognition of his research achievements, the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines awarded Dr. Hautea its “Outstanding Young Scientist” prize in plant breeding in 1995.

Professionally, Dr. Hautea was director of the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños and team leader of the Philippines’ national commodity research and development teams for legumes, vegetables and root crops before assuming leadership of ISAAA’s South East Asia Center in 1998. He also was involved in assessing the international agricultural research centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Dr. Hautea went on to become global coordinator of ISAAA, a non-profit organization engaged in facilitating the assessment, acquisition, transfer and management of biotechnology applications for the benefit of developing countries. ISAAA operates principally in Southeast Asia and East Africa and is instrumental in tracking the cultivation of biotech crops throughout the world, annually releasing a report that documents the adoption of biotechnology by farmers across the globe, especially in developing nations.

“Randy was an inspiration to all of us who worked in crop biotechnology in developing countries,” said Dr. Tony Shelton, a Cornell entomologist who collaborated with Dr. Hautea on several scientific papers. “He and his wife Des were a dynamic force, showing us all what can be accomplished with dedication, hard work and knowledge.”

As a staunch advocate for biotechnology, Dr. Hautea served on the advisory board of the Cornell Alliance for Science, a global communications and training initiative that seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability and raising the quality of life globally.

“Randy was deeply committed to our mission, which was reflected in his own life’s work,” said Dr. Sarah Evanega, director of the Alliance. “In honor of his memory, and his great contributions to crop biotechnology, we will name a Randy A. Hautea Global Leadership Fellow from the Philippines to attend our training course this fall.”

In addition to his wife, Dr. Hautea is survived by his daughter, Samantha, a communications specialist at Cornell University who is a member of the IP-CALS staff.

-Written by Joan Conrow in Cornell Alliance for Science.  See original article link here.

Statement of the Philippine Association of Nutrition in Support of Biotechnology

Statement of the Philippine Association of Nutrition in Support of Biotechnology

The Philippine Association of Nutrition (PAN) is an inter-professional group of advocates who enlist all to support finding solutions to problems in nutrition. The highest goal of PAN is to attain proper nutrition for every Filipino through all available means.

 

One out of every five Filipino children is stunted and the Global Food Security Index of the Philippines is at near critical levels at 48.1-87.2 or a 10-point difference from ideal. Faced with this challenge, we at PAN are proactive in exploring all possible interventions and innovation on the development of crops that will ensure food and nutrition security. Cognizant of the progress in food production to address the problem of food availability for the marginalized sectors of society, PAN supports the responsible use of biotechnology as a means to achieve this end.

 

An example of this is the development of genetically modified organisms (GMO) to enhance food production and contribute to better nutrition. GM crops have been assessed and approved by the Department of Agriculture and allied agencies for cultivation and/or direct use as food, feed and for processing.  For over 12 years planting GM crops in the Philippines such as biotech corn has increased productivity and delivered an economic gain of about PhP 30B (US$ 642M) at the farm level. This gain is especially felt by more than 400 thousand, small-hold, resource-poor farmers.

 

World health authorities, scientific experts, and government regulatory bodies overwhelmingly endorse the safety of GM crops.  To date, GMOs have been used for over 20 years and have been considered safe. The International Council for Science (ICS), composed of at least 281 national scientific institutions, lends credence to the safety of GMOs. ICS has determined that GM crops would not carry a higher risk than their conventional counterparts. The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, among many others, also uphold GM food safety. As of 2016, 28 countries are growing GM crops and 40 countries are using them for food, feed and for processing, attesting to the breadth of global GM acceptance anchored on science-based safety assessment.

 

In 2010, the European Commission published its report on GMO research and highlighted the fact that biotechnology in crop production has been there for over 2 decades, signifying a long history of safe use or application. Until now, the use of GM food is still being monitored and noted to be safe in terms of allergenicity, risk of horizontal gene transfer and safety in the food production chain.

 

The nutrient profile of food is a major concern of PAN, and it is noteworthy that evidence shows the comparable nutrient bioavailability in GM crops as with their conventional counterparts for corn, rice, and soya.  Certain GM crops do have a superior nutrient profile to provide a healthier diet.  Equally important are the anti-nutrients in GM crops, which are not higher but remain comparable with non-GM crops.

 

Finally, PAN supports the maximization of biotechnology for the 21st century, such as the new gene editing tools, which will make the modification of crops faster and more precise.  Such tools would enable the rapid development of more nutritious food on the table that our growing population needs.

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Read more

FEATURE BLOG: The trial of Bt talong field trials

FEATURE BLOG: The trial of Bt talong field trials

The Philippine government issued a policy statement in July 2001 promoting the judicious use of modern biotechnology and its products for food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.  In April 2002, rules and regulations on the importation and release into the environment of biotech plants and products were issued.  Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DA AO8), series of 2002 served as the regulatory guidelines in assessing health and environmental safety of biotech crops.

bt corn

Soon after the approval of the government on the planting of the first biotech crop in December 2002, the agricultural landscape in the Philippines changed significantly, particularly in the corn sector.  From the initial plantings in 2003 of biotech corn in about 20,000 hectares, commercial plantings now cover an area of about 800 thousand hectares, planted by more than 350 thousand farmers. Because of the fast and wide adoption of biotech corn, the country has achieved sufficiency in the supply of yellow corn starting in 2012.

Early traits of biotech corn provide solution to infestation of Asiatic corn borer and problem in maintaining crop stand with the application of herbicides.  Biotech corn available now in the market has the combination of both traits. Biotech corn products in the pipeline have traits that can address other pests and diseases, improving nutritional value, and can withstand harsh climate conditions such as drought.

Bt talong research and development

bt eggplantWith the success in the adoption of biotech corn in the country, the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) spearheaded the development of a biotech eggplant that provides resistance to its chronic pest, the fruit and shoot borer.  Eggplant production provides an important source of cash income for small and resource-poor farmers in the country, and accounts for more than 30% of the volume of vegetable production.

DSC02820bThe eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) is a lepidopterous insect whose larva consumes the inner part of the eggplant fruit.  Damage caused by the EFSB normally results to nearly 80% of yield loss especially during high incidence of infestation.  The pest’s gut, similar to that of the corn borer, is affected by the toxin produced by the cry1a gene. Hence, similar to the first commercialized biotech corn, Bt talong use the gene from the soil borne bacteria Bacillus thuringensis to control EFSB.

Research started in 2003 in the laboratory and contained experiment was from 2007 to 2009 under the supervision of the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines (NCBP).  Field trials in Laguna, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, and North Cotabato were conducted from 2010 to 2012.  Bt talong varieties developed by IPB-UPLB contained a transformation event developed by Mahyco in India and introgressed into local open-pollinated varieties through backcrossing.  The biotech eggplant is the first public-sector initiated research and the first biotech food crop developed in the Philippines.

As with other biotech crops developed in the Philippines and elsewhere, Bt talong followed a rigorous regulatory guidelines and review throughout its research and development process. Research activities on Bt talong followed the strict regulatory requirements stipulated in the Philippine Biosafety Guidelines and the DA AO8 designed to minimize and manage the risks to both human health and to the environment of biotech products produced through modern biotechnology.

Bt talong court trial

The development of Bt talong has never been without any challenges.  For instance, field trial at UP Mindanao in Davao City had to be prematurely terminated in December 2010 because of the anti-biotech stance of the city government and its officials.  At the height of the field trial being conducted at the experimental farm of UPLB, members of Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) vandalized and uprooted eggplants in February 2011.

upminIn April 2012, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka at Syentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), and other personalities filed a writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus in the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the field trials of Bt talong.  The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law that provides for the protection of one’s rights to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”. Petitioners argued that the field trials of Bt talong violated the constitutional rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology pointing out the inherent and potential risks on human and animal health and the environment through “field trial contamination”.

Respondents to the case were Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), UP Los Baños Foundation, Inc. (UPLBFI) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan on May 2, 2012 directing the respondents to answer the petition of the anti-biotech entities.  The case was subsequently remanded by the SC to the Court of Appeals (CA) on July 10, 2012 for hearings, reception of evidence, and rendition of judgment.  On October 12, 2012, the appellate court issued a resolution acknowledging the legal standing of the petitioners, non-mootness of the case, and presence of justiciable controversies in relation to non-compliance with environmental and local government laws.  Petitioners maintained that the conduct of Bt talong field trials should be covered by the environmental impact statement (EIS) system and that there were no genuine public consultations conducted in communities within the trial sites prior to the approval of the field trials.

Respondents maintained that since the field trials had already been terminated, petition for writ of kalikasan should be dismissed for being moot and academic.  Moreover, Bt talong field trials do not cause environmental damage and do not prejudice the life, health and property of individuals.

In a span of nearly seven months, hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved were conducted, with both local and foreign experts presenting their arguments and evidence on the case at bar.  The CA adopted the “hot-tub” method in hearing the testimonies and arguments of expert witnesses from both parties.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 17, 2013, the appellate court ruled that “the field trials of genetically modified organisms Bt talong could not be declared as safe to human health and to our ecology with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology”.  The court maintained that there is still no full scientific certainty on the effects of the Bt talong to the environment and to the health of the people.  The CA further stressed that the “overall safety guarantee of Bt talong remains unknown”.  This is where the premise of precautionary principle was applied.

The court also claimed that the existing biosafety regulations issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and health of the people.  The appellate court ordered to permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials and protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment in accordance with the judgment.

Greenpeace and Masipag were quick to commend the decision of the CA and claimed the ruling as “victory to the Filipino people”.  However, farmers felt otherwise.  In a series of public dialogues conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) on Bt talong participated in by key agriculture stakeholders from Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon provinces, farmers lamented the undue ruling against Bt talong field trials as a major setback to adopting a much needed technology that is economically beneficial and safe to their health and the environment.  Farmers even signed a manifesto supporting commercial use of biotech crops in the country and asked for the early release of the Bt talong in the market.

A consolidated petition was lodged to the SC to seek reversal of the May 17, 2013 decision and the September 20, 2013 resolution of the appellate court denying the motions for reconsideration filed by Bt talong proponents.  On December 8, 2015, after the review of the petitions and submissions, the SC en banc upheld the decision of the appellate court and further modified the CA ruling. The DA AO8 was nullified which temporarily halted the application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with law.

Members of the scientific community, including student organizations and professional groups whose memberships are composed of well-known scientists such as the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), criticized the High Court’s ruling which apparently relied on discredited scientific research and literatures and improperly applied the precautionary principle to support its judgment.  Other stakeholders lamented on the possible negative repercussions of the SC decision on modern biotechnology and scientific advancement in the country.  Some farmer groups had urged the SC to junk the writ of kalikasan against Bt talong and the temporary ban on the commercial use, propagation and importation of other biotech plant products.

In his concurring opinion to the SC ruling, Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen opined that the petition for the writ of kalikasan should have been dismissed and considered moot and academic by the appellate court considering the expiration of the validity of the biosafety permits for the field trials and the actual termination of all the field trials.  Further, Justice Leonen noted “grave abuse of discretion which amounts to excess of jurisdiction” in relation to the CA ruling.

Despite the negative decision of the SC, some positive outcomes were realized with the court’s ruling.  The SC ruling heightened public awareness and interest on modern biotechnology and biotech plant products.  The SC decision had become the topic of discussion for weeks in both mainstream and social media and public dialogues.  A collective voice of scientists defended the science behind the Bt technology and the safety and benefits of biotech crops.  The science community ventilated concerns on the consequences of the SC decision on the advancement of science and technology in the country.  In a demonstration of cooperation and mutual interest, five government agencies worked together to draft and finalize a new directive that would later become the regulatory framework for safety decisions on biotech plant products that is more transparent, participatory, comprehensive, and with strict adherence to high standards of risk assessment.

Supreme Court reversed previous ruling

Undeterred by the decision of the SC, motions for reconsideration were filed by the Bt talong proponents.  An unexpected turn of events occurred on July 26, 2016 when the SC en banc unanimous reversed its previous ruling.  The SC ruled in favor of the Bt talong proponents affirming mootness of the case.  The SC decision further stated that since no commercial propagation of Bt talong took place and research activities never went beyond the field trial phase, “any future threat to the public to a healthful and balanced ecology is more imagined than real.”

The court further noted that it should not have invalidated DA AO8 as it was only “collaterally challenged” and the anti-Bt talong petitioners were merely asking for amendments to the administrative order. The court declared DA AO8 null and void in its previous decision for failure to comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).  Three main issues raised by the court in the nullification of DA AO8 were the lack of meaningful public participation on biosafety decisions, non-implementation of the EIS system, and lack of standards for risk assessment.

New regulatory guidelines

The SC ruling in December 2015 required the issuance of new regulatory guidelines for safety assessment of biotech plant products.  Following the order of the SC, the NCBP initiated the drafting, public consultations, and finalization of the Joint Department Circular No. 1 (JDC), series of 2016.   The new regulatory framework became effective on April 15, 2016 replacing the voided DA AO8.  Under the JDC, five relevant government agencies, namely Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) participate in the biosafety decision-making process involving the research, development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of biotech plant and plant products.  The JDC provides a more rigorous scrutiny of biotech plant products with the inclusion in the safety assessment of environmental impacts, health impacts, and involvement and meaningful participation of the general public and communities in the decision-making process.

The next step

With the field trials of Bt talong already completed, confirming the efficacy of the technology against the fruit and shoot borer and its safety towards beneficial and non-target insects, and with the unanimous ruling of the SC reversing its earlier decision against field tests, immediate commercial release should be considered by its developer.  Farmers are set to gain from the adoption of Bt talong with significant reduction in yield loss, lesser use of pesticides, and increased income.  Consumers are expected to benefit from pesticide-free eggplants that will be made available in the market.

About the Author:

Panfilo G. de Guzman is an Associate Scientist of the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).