Re-engineering Food

Supermarket shelves in the United States would soon be featuring the next generation of biotech food. An Associated Press report, for example, revealed the advent of granola bars made with genetically tweaked soybean oil that is heart-healthy. Foods from plants or animals that had their DNA “edited” are expected to begin selling by early next year. “Gene editing” is a different technology than the so-called genetically modified foods. It is “more like faster breeding that promises to boost nutrition, spur crop growth and make farm animals hardier, and fruits and vegetables last longer.”

These food items may also be shipped to the Philippines but it would certainly take time. Genetically modified organisms have yet to gain wide acceptance among Filipinos. This, despite the fact that the Philippines is regarded as a leader in biotechnology in the region due to the stringent regulations it uses prior to approving the propagation and commercialization of new biotech products.

The Philippines embraced biotechnology when the Department of Agriculture issued Administrative Order 8 in April 2002. The AO outlined the regulations for the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology. The order was issued more than a decade after the government issued Executive Order 430, which recognized the potential of biotechnology in improving the lives of Filipinos, on October 15, 1990.

The first product that was approved for propagation and commercialization was Bacillus thuringiensis corn. Filipino farmers started planting genetically modified corn in 2003. Bt corn, which is resistant to pests such as corn borers and cutworm, has allowed farmers to significantly increase their corn production. A report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri Biotech Applications revealed that farmers earned an estimated $642 million from planting GM corn in 2003 to 2015.

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It appears, however, that the Philippines stopped at GM corn. No new crop has been approved for commercialization and efforts to introduce genetically modified ones have been met with resistance from groups that ask the Supreme Court to stop the field testing of crops like Bt eggplant. It was in 2012 when some groups asked the Supreme Court to stop the field-testing of Bt eggplant. While the field-testing of the crop was completed in 2012, proponents had to wait for four years before they could proceed to commercial cultivation of the crop.

Apart from the challenges posed by advocacy groups, the Joint Department Circular 1 is also making it more difficult for biotech proponents to make certain GM crops commercially available. JDC 1, which replaced AO 8, is being blamed for the delays in the processing of permits for GM crops. The US Department of Agriculture has even warned that the Philippines could lose its status as Asia’s leader in biotechnology if Manila would continue its foot-dragging in giving out permits for GM crops.

Proponents of Bt corn have long addressed fears over the safety of GM crops. Despite the claims made by those who oppose the technology, they have yet to show definitive proof that the planting and ingestion of GM corn have made people sick or caused mortalities.

The noise created by opponents should not drown out the rational voice of scientists who have extensively studied the technology and have proven that it could help eliminate hunger. The government should do well to remember that the noise of those opposed to biotechnology would not feed millions of Filipinos who continue to sleep on empty stomachs.


Originally published in Business Mirror. See original article link here.