This report summarizes the accomplishments of ISAAA SEAsiaCenter and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) in 2017 focused on bringing the benefits of biotechnology to help uplift the lives of the Filipinos.
The Joint Department Circular (JDC) titled Rules and Regulations for the Research and Development, Handling and Use, Transboundary Movement, Release into the Environment, and Management of Genetically-Modified Plant and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology was approved and signed by the secretaries of the Philippine government’s Departments of Agriculture (DA), Science and Technology (DOST), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Health (DOH), and Interior and Local Government (DILG) on March 7, 2016. The JDC was drafted in response to the nullification of the DA Administrative Order No. 8 by the Supreme Court last December 8, 2015.
It was the product of five multi-sectoral public consultations held by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP). After the release of the JDC, ISAAA, together with its partners initiated public briefings to different key provinces and cities in the Philippines. The objective of the briefing was to inform the farmers, traders, consumer groups, students, extension workers, and other stakeholders about the changes in the regulations.
The stakeholders who attended the JDC briefings expressed their appreciation of the activities which equipped them not just with knowledge about the regulations but also more appreciation of biotechnology. It is one of the most powerful strategies of ISAAA to continually engage the influential stakeholders and empower them to actively participate in the biotech dialogue.
ISAAA also continues to provide support to enable transfer of appropriate biotechnologies, particularly the fruit and shoot borer resistant eggplant known in the Philippines as Bt talong.
ISAAA and SEARCA BIC conducted a 17-year media study (2000-2016) to analyze the trends in Philippine print and online reporting on modern crop biotechnology. The study is part of the Know the Science project funded by the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Office (BPO). The result of the study was published in the April 2017 issue of Philippine Journal of Crop Science and presented in the 24th Scientific Conference of the Federation of Crop Science Societies of the Philippines (FCSSP).
The study, which reviewed 2,219 articles from top Philippine newspapers (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Business Mirror), showed that over the past 17 years of reporting, the Philippine media exhibited a mature editorial stance on biotechnology, which happened gradually through the years. This is manifested by the decrease in the number of articles in negative tone; increase in the use of metaphors relating to potential/promise; decline in the use of biotech critics as sources of information; and increase in the number of articles framed towards social progress, highlighting the positive impact of crop biotechnology. For the past seven years (2010-2016), the top sources of information on biotechnology were Dr. Clive James (ISAAA Founder and Emeritus Chair) and ISAAA. It was recommended that media practitioners and scientists must continue to collaborate to sustain the public interest on the technology.
ISAAA also presented the study through different publications such as booklets, infographics, and blogs to highlight the findings.
Advancing biotech policy and regulations
Joint Department Circular on Biotechnology Regulation in the Philippines
With the new regulations implemented in the Philippines, regional public briefings were organized by ISAAA, SEARCA BIC, and the Philippine Department of Agriculture. Around 800 key stakeholders attended the four regional briefings held in Cebu City, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City and Pampanga. The participants, including members of the consumer groups, regulators, farmer-leaders, faculty and students, information officers, and staff and officials of the local government units, were given lectures on the different tools and applications of modern biotechnology, environmental and food safety issues, biotech crops commercially available in the country and elsewhere, and biotech crops being developed and in the pipeline. Representatives of the five government agencies (Agriculture, Science and Technology, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, and Interior and Local Government) involved in the development and implementation of the new regulatory system were also present during the briefings to address the concerns of the public.
Policy dialogues and related activities
ISAAA, in collaboration with the Philippine DA-Biotech Program Office (DA-BPO), provided travel support to DA staff attending high level policy symposium/dialogue organized by international organizations including the ASEAN Genetically Modified Food (GMF) Testing Network (Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar) and APEC HLPDAB Meeting and other APEC ministerial meetings in Can Thó, Vietnam.
Together with DA-BPO, ISAAA also conducted activities for the creation and promotion of a legislative agenda supporting agri-biotech development in the Philippines. A series of focused group discussions and consultations with key stakeholders and members of the legislature were executed.
Study Visit to Biotech Crop Fields
Under a collaborative project with DA-BPO, ISAAA organized a study visit to the Philippines for Bangladesh biosafety regulators, as requested by the Department of Environment – Implementation of the National Biosafety Framework (INBF) Project of Bangladesh. Five Bangladesh regulators attended a regulations briefing at the DA headquarters, introduction to the Bt eggplant project at UPLB-IPB, discussions with the Golden Rice researchers at the International Rice Research Institute, field visits to commercial Bt corn fields and eggplant farms in Tarlac and Pangasinan.
Special seminar on Safety, Regulations, and Agricultural Modernization
A seminar was co-organized by ISAAA, SEARCA BIC, and Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) Philippines wherein PBS Senior Legal Consultant, Atty. Gregory Jaffe presented the major obstacles in getting biotech crops to farmers. The obstacles discussed were socio-economic considerations, multiple agency review, labeling, and legal court challenges. An example cited was the court case filed against Bt eggplant in the Philippines which is more of a procedural issue than a technical one. According to Atty. Jaffe, the key is transparent and predictable biosafety regulatory procedures that anticipate and address the said issues before a product is approved for release. The seminar was attended by students, researchers, and key scientists and experts from the University of the Philippines Los Baños scientific community.
JDC Roundtable Discussion with Department of Justice and DA Beat Reporters
ISAAA, SEARCA BIC, and the DA Biotech Program Office informed print, TV, and radio reporters covering court
cases in the Philippines about the background and details of the Joint Department Circular (JDC) through a roundtable discussion.
Topics presented were the history of the National Biosafety Framework, the overview of the Bt eggplant court case which led to the JDC, and the JDC and Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DABPI) processes for biosafety applications. Critical analysis and comparison of the DA Administrative Order (AO) No. 8 and the JDC were also discussed.
Agri-biotech Boot Camp
Twenty-nine (29) senior high school students and their science teachers from Isabela, Laguna, Iloilo, Cebu, Davao,
and Cagayan De Oro were enlightened on the issues and trends in agriculture and agri-biotech during the Agribiotech Boot Camp for Senior High School Students at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study
and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Headquarters, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines.
The activity was conducted to create awareness and build interest in agriculture and introduce traditional and modern biotech as a career among the students. The boot camp is a build-up activity for the 13th National Biotechnology Week celebrated on November 20-24, 2017 at Fisher Mall, Quezon City.
Aside from lectures, briefings and study visits to the biotech laboratories and facilities of the University of the
Philippines Los Baños – Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB IPB) and UPLB-National Institute of Molecular Biology
and Biotechnology (UPLB-BIOTECH), and the Rice World Museum of the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) were also conducted. Interactive games relatedto biotech were facilitated by student organizations
University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UP LABS) and UP Genetic
Researchers and Agricultural Innovators Society (UP GRAINS).
AgStorytelling in Social Media
ISAAA social media managers shared some techniques on how to promote agricultural innovations such as
biotechnology to a wider reach through social media. Information officers from the DA regional offices attended the workshops held in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Pampanga and learned how to develop and execute a social media plan, create visually engaging and informative posts, and harness the power of storytelling in engaging the public.
Agri-biotech Capacity Building for ASFARNETPhilippines
Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET) Philippines, PhilRice, and DA-Biotech Program Office, in collaboration with ISAAA and SEARCA BIC, organized a trainers’ training-workshop on agri-biotechnology. The products, science, safety, and potential benefits of biotechnology as well as strategies and skills for biotech communication were presented to farmer-leaders and members of ASFARNET from all over the country.
Tackled in the training were the development of Golden Rice in the Philippines, science communication, local
government communication support strategies, and social media for biotech communication, among others.
The group also visited the Philippine Carabao Center and the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Fisheries and
Public information and outreach
#KnowtheSciencePH Social Media Campaign
ISAAA and SEARCA BIC used the power of social media to educate the Filipinos about the science behind crop biotechnology through the #KnowTheScience campaign. It is part of the information, education, and communication (IEC) project with DA-Biotech Program.
The campaign aims to educate the Filipino public about biotech crops and the technology by understanding the science behind them through major social media networks namely: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram. The campaign uses scientific and evidence-based leverage of biotech crops through studies published on its safety, and actual and potential benefits.
It highlights the personal stories and experiences of people who adopt (farmers, consumers) or develop (scientists) biotech crops. Among the outputs of the campaign are infographics, biotech trivia, and biotech stories.
The number of social media users who liked Know The Science reached over 1,000 in December 2017. The pages
have been liked and followed by students, high school teachers, college instructors, researchers, scientists, bloggers, government organizations, and communication specialists.
National Biotechnology Week Exhibit
Over 700 gameboard kits of #BiotechisCool were distributed by ISAAA during the Philippine National Biotechnology Week. Copies of other ISAAA publications were also distributed to the attendees of the event.
The biotech-on-air radio program Radyo Teknolohiya continues to reach the public through DZRB Radyo ng Bayan aired weekly in all provinces of the Philippines.
The program covered various issues on biotech including research updates, science communication, the new national regulations, animal biotech, and agricultural modernization.
Bt Eggplant Roundtable Discussion
As part of ISAAA and SEARCA BIC’s continuing effort to inform the public about biotech crops in the pipeline, a
roundtable discussion on Bt eggplant was held for the members of the to the Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao (VicsMin), a non-profit organization that advocates policies beneficial to the vegetable industry in the region and has 40 active member institutions and 20 individual farmers.
Bt eggplant study leader Dr. Lourdes Taylo discussed the science, safety, and the potential actual benefits of modern biotechnology, particularly Bt eggplant. The group expressed its full support for the commercial planting of Bt eggplant in the country by signing a one-page manifesto of support. VicsMin also expressed support for all the public advocacy efforts that will conducted for Bt eggplant. Other members also offered their land as possible sites of demonstration farms for Bt eggplant.