GMOs as safe as conventional food, beneficial for farmers — scientists

Genetically modified food is as safe as traditionally-cultivated and organic food and has additional nutrients to supplement the needs of common Filipino families, according to scientists.

The scientists from the Department of Agriculture (DA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) reassured the public that GMO (Genetically Modified Organisim) food is safe at a forum on Thursday that reaffirmed truths about the controversial subject.

As safe as conventional food

Dr. Nina Gloriani, BCP president, said genetically modified crops have been proven as safe as their conventional counterparts because screening for the crops is “more rigorous than for other crop production technologies.”

There are many organizations that have attested to this, including the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and national academies of science across the globe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), then known as the Bureau of Food and Drugs, determined that the risks from genetically modified foods are no different from traditionally produced foods in a statement on September 5, 2002.

FDA Advisory: 2013-014 later stated that “the focus of evaluation is on the food product and not on the technology used to produce the product” and it supports a “robust science-based evaluation system” for food safety.

The anti-pest characteristics of GMO crops ensure that farmers have no need to dip these crops in fertilizer before shipping to conceal insect damage from traditional farming.

Farmers also do not need to use synthetic growth stimulants nor organic manure laden with viruses that may lead to enteric infections, as they do in organic farming.

“Some of them use organic manure and ang problema dun, yung possibility of enteric infections: e.coli O157, yung nakaka-cause ng diarrhea. Marami na pong nangyayaring ganun sa America,” Gloriani said.

On affordability and accessibility, GM crops and products with GM crops in it — including canola oil, corned beef, and 2,000 other common products in the market — are the same as other, traditionally-sourced goods.

“‘Organic is better, organic is healthier’ pero mas mahal and who can afford, in the Philippines? Mas marami ba ang makaka-afford? Ang GM, pareho ang presyo niyan. It has been deemed safe, so it should be available as is,” Gloriani said.

Biotech food safety review typically takes 10 to 14 years due to the Philippines’ stringent regulatory system for approving GMO food crops and products.

Crops undergo further scrutiny by international and national standards before they are permitted for importation and commercialization.

According to Joint Department Circular No. 1, series of 2016 the research, development, use, release into the environment, and management of genetically modified crops are regulated under the supervision of five government agencies.

These agencies are the 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).

Reviews also allow refinement in GMO foods, seen best in the second reiteration of golden rice, which uses a gene from maize to boost its beta carotene content for the production of vitamin A.

IRRI Biofortification senior scientist Russell Reinke said Filipino consume enough rice to reach their goal of supplying 30 to 50 percent of the estimated vitamin A requirement through golden rice.

“The levels of beta carotene are really quite small, but that’s countered by the fact that people tend to eat quite a lot of rice. If you look at Bangladesh, for example, they eat 170 per kilos per person per year,” Reinke explained, noting that Filipinos on average eat 120 kilos of rice per year.

“It might not be a lot, but you guys are eating a significant amount of it every day,” he added. “Our aim has never been to provide all the recommended daily allowance ’cause you get some from other foods as well; even the poorest of the poor are still getting some Vitamin A.”

Higher profits for farmers

Farmers took quickly to GMO crops — particularly GMO corn — due to higher yield and income, availability of financial assistance in acquiring seeds, pest resistance, good product quality, lesser expenses, and seeing other farmers succeed with their fields.

Dr. Saturnina Halos, DA consultant on biotech and climate change, added that GMO corn technology also helped farmers diversify their income sources and send their kids to school.

“Ang nakakatuwa po dito, ang sasabihin po sa inyo ng ating mga magsasaka, nakapagpaaral na sila sa kolehiyo at gumanda talaga ang kanilang buhay, gumanda ang bahay nila,” said Halos, who is also one of the pillars of Philippine biotechnology.

“Yung iba, hindi na umuutang, ginagamit nilang capital sa kanilang farm; may mga nakakabili na ng kanilang sasakyan,” she continued.

More scientists needed

Halos acknowledged that the seeds used in 180 million hectares of genetically modified crops were sourced from big corporations.

She said this was due to the Philippines’ inability to create its own strains because of a lack of permanent positions for scientists.

To combat this, food scientists are drafting a bill urging the government to create more permanent positions for scientists in the public sector and are seeking sponsors who can help push the bill forward.

“We will be talking with yung medyo may power talaga para talagang mag-move kasi kailangang-kailangan natin. Sa Senate, tingnan natin, may kakikilala din naman tayo doon, sa lower house ganun din,” Halos said.

“We have to go para mapa-push kagad. Kasi sa ngayon, maraming pera ang gobyerno, at ito talaga ang magandang investment, not only for today, but for the future,” she added. — BAP, GMA News

-Written by Rie Takumi in GMA News Online.  See original article link here.