Filipino scientists, regulators look into GMO perceptions

GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial, with a number of people around the world saying they have negative impacts to the environment, can cause “genetic pollution” and are not good for human consumption.

Yet, as of June 30, more than 110 Nobel laureates and over 3,500 scientists all over the world have signed a letter addressing and urging Greenpeace International “to reexamine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology; recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies; and abandon their campaign against GMOs, in general, and Golden Rice, in particular.”

According to the World Food Program (WFP), about one out of nine people in the world do not have enough food to live a healthy life. This amounts to 795 million people in the world who are hungry, most of who come from developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the total population lack food to eat.

Furthermore, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public-health problem. A World Health Organization (WHO) data say an estimated 250 million preschool children suffer from VAD together with pregnant women, with 5 percent of this number leads to death every year for children within 12 months of losing their sight.

In the case of the Philippines, it has the highest poverty incidence among its Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers. With a national poverty of 25.8 percent, according to World Bank data, the Philippines has a lot of work to do to alleviate poverty and address issues of public health, such as VAD.

This is where GMO, such as the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt talong (eggplant) and Golden Rice, enters as a solution to relieve and, eventually, end the battle against VAD and hunger; and give the farmers a chance to provide food while farming sustainably and efficiently without the threat of having shortage or attacks of insects that kill their crops, GMO experts and advocates say.

GMO issue
“The real debate is safety,” said Benigno Peczon, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “We already have overwhelming evidence for 20 years’ use that they are safe,” he emphasized.

In his presentation at the forum on GM Crops: Public Perception and Trade Regulation Practices held at the University of the Philippines Law Center in Quezon City, Peczon discussed how the applications of modern biotechnology in the agriculture area has benefited farmers.

Bt corn has been planted in the Philippines for more than 14 years now, or since 2002, in more than 800,000 hectares by farmers.

“In traditional plant breeding, related plants are interbred until the desired trait emerges,” Peczon said, noting that it costs time and effort to do this kind of technique, where they shuffle and crossbreed recurrent parent plant with desirable characteristics, such as high yield and adaptation.

For Peczon, one of the main objectives in agriculture is to ensure that only the desired plant grows. He added, “as far as the farmers are concerned, anything that competes with the crop of choice is undesirable, getting rid of weeds is not easy and can be costly.”

Bt corn in the Philippines
Leonardo Gonzales, founding president and chairman of Sikpa/Strive Inc., said at the same forum in his lecture, entitled “Socioeconomic Impact Assessment: The Bt Corn Experience,” Bt is “a naturally occurring soil-borne bacterium where it produces crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects.”

The Bt corn is a GMO which, through genetic engineering, the Bt gene was incorporated in the corn plant’s DNA to enhance its resistance against insect attacks, such as the Asiatic corn borer. This method helped many farmers produce corn resistant to insects and saved them money from using pesticides.

“Bt corn required 54-percent less pesticides than ordinary hybrid [OH] corn in order to produce the same amount of corn grain from 2003 to 2011,”Gonzales said.

For Gonzales, Bt corn has had other empirical findings. One of which is on fertilizer use.

He said, “Bt corn adopters, on the average, were 9-percent more efficient in the use of fertilizer than ordinary hybrid corn-seed users.” This, after more than 10 years of planting the GMO plant, has indicated positive environmental impacts among corn producers.

Another finding, according to Gonzales, was that the average yield advantage of Bt corn over OH corn, was 19 percent and a cost advantage of 10 percent compared to OH corn, with a 42 percent higher return on investment from 2003 to 2011.

Last, Bt corn consistently outperformed OH corn by 29 percent in meeting food and poverty thresholds in the same timeframe.

“Technological innovations, like the GM products, are sustainable if they provide socioeconomic impacts to society. They are either compliant with the basic requirements of the natural resources, and if it does not comply with that, it will die a natural death,” Gonzales said.

He added, “We believe in the hypothesis that in the long term, the role of new technology is to lower your cost so that you will become efficient in the production of that commodity.” To be concluded

-Written by Stephanie Tumampos, BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

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