Philippine Government Urged to Subsidize GM Seeds

Filipino farmers should gain access to low-cost genetically modified (GM) seeds once a law that seeks to advance biotechnology in the Philippines is passed, according to the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. (CAMP).

CAMP President Benigno D. Peczon, a balik scientist, told the BusinessMirror that the initial funding under the proposed Modern Biotechnology Act could be used by the government to provide subsidized GM seeds to farmers.

There are currently two bills pending in the House of Representatives that seek to support the development of modern biotechnology in the country: House Bills 7705 by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and HB 7926 by Deputy Speaker Sharon S. Garin. Both bills were drafted by the CAMP and were supported by Garin and Arroyo.

“It could be used [for providing free GM seeds]. It can enable farmers to get seeds so that they will not anymore buy from multinationals,” Peczon said in a recent interview.

Under HB 7705 and 7926, the Biotechnology Authority of the Philippines would be established to serve as the overall regulatory agency on biotechnology in the country. Upon creation, the BioAP would have an initial funding of P500 million, according to the bills. The fund, according to Peczon, could be used by the BioAP to produce its own versions of GM crops in the market such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

“If you look at it, all the patents of [Bt] corn from the multinationals are expiring. Why do not we enable one of our institutions to come up with our own version [of Bt corn]?” he said.

Peczon said the passage of a biotechnology law would also streamline the approval process for new applications to propagate GM crops. “We are losing millions because of opportunity loss. Our approval process is too convoluted right now,” he said.

“There are too many players. If there is no danger [from GM crops] anyway then why should we it undergo a tedious process? Why do we treat it as if it’s dangerous?” he added.

Under the bills, the BioAP shall be the lone approval agency for applications to propagate new GM crops in the Philippines.

Image Credit: www.irri.org
Image Credit: www.irri.org

The BioAP shall comprised of the science  secretary, four recommended members by the National Academy of Science Technology of the Philippines and two members recommended by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.Members of the BioAP shall be appointed by the President and will serve a five-year term, renewable for another term. The BioAP shall, also have a secretariat headed by an executive director that will be appointed by the President.

The executive director should have at least 10 years of professional experience in managing research and development programs.

At present, an interagency committee created under the Joint Department Circular (JDC) 1 Series of 2016 oversees the approval process of Bt crops in the country. The members of the committee are: the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of the Interior and Local Government.

 

Image Credit: www.gmwatch.org
Image Credit: www.gmwatch.org

“We have too many cooks in the kitchen. We were already experiencing difficulties in approvals when it was only the DA and the DOST that approved the applications. The approval process worsened when other agencies were included,” Peczon said.

“Since the approval of the JDC, there has been no new commercialized [GM crop] in the market,” Peczon added.

The explanatory notes of both HB 7705 and 7926 indicated that it takes 65 months or more for a new GM crop in the country to be commercialized.

Image Credit: www.eco-business.com
Image Credit: www.eco-business.com

“The cumbersome regulations can no longer be justified for they effectively discriminate against local public biotech research institutions which have limited resources to comply with the existing regulations,” the bills read.

Earlier economist Cesar Quicoy, associate professor at the University of the Philippines Los Baños College of Economics and Management, studied the cost of delaying the commercialization of Bt eggplant in the country in three different adoption-rate scenarios.

Quicoy’s study found that Filipino farmers are losing as much as P33.85 billion annually due to non-commercialization of Bt eggplant.

 

Written by Jasper Y. Arcalas in Business Mirror. See original article link here.