Strengthening support for biotechnology in PHL

In its September 15 issue, the BusinessMirror cited diocesan priest Fr. Emmanuel Alparce, a member of the Department of Agriculture Biotech Program Technical Committee on Information, Education and Communication, who said that lawmakers should be open-minded about the biotechnological developments being conducted in the country that seek to curb poverty and improve the lives of Filipinos.

In Photo: Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader in the Bt eggplant project of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, checks the eggplants at the Bt eggplant field trial site in the University of Southern Mindanao in 2012. Photo by Manuel Canyon/BusinessMirror

The priest gave this remark after Makabayan bloc lawmakers filed a resolution seeking to conduct an inquiry on the development of Golden Rice in the country. Indeed, there is an urgent necessity toward strengthening biotechnology in the country. Toward this end, the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), a science-based think tank and advocacy group, is proposing a legislation to streamline complicated and cumbersome biosafety regulations on biotechnology products and provide vigorous support for modern biotechnology to promote environmental and food safety, and help reduce hunger and poverty in the Philippines.

According to CAMP, Bt eggplant, a biotechnology product of the University of the Philippines Los Baños that is designed to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in planting eggplant, could have been released for commercial production in the Philippines three years ago, but this was not possible due to strict and time-consuming biosafety regulations.

These regulations have been exploited by ideological enemies of modern technology to delay approval of Bt eggplant and other products of biotechnology.

With the current regulatory framework, it takes 65 months (almost five and-a-half years) to complete all requirements for the commercial release of modern biotechnology products. The delays give farmers no choice but continue applying chemical pesticides to their crops two or three times a week, and consumers continue buying and eating eggplants loaded with pesticides.

Since the 1990s there has been a strong opposition to genetic engineering that produce genetically modified or biotech crops because of imagined risks to environment, animal and human health.

The risks have been studied thoroughly by independent scientists worldwide, leading to the conclusion that the ideologically inspired opposition have no scientific basis.

The National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines (NAST) states that “when used properly, genetically modified organisms [GMOs]are good for farmers and good for the environment. GM foods are safe for animals and humans.”

Along with this, the United States National Academy of Sciences cites that “there is no difference between traditional and biotech crops in terms of risks to human health, nor any negative effects on environment from biotech crops.”

Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) declares that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of GM foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

The University of Wisconsin made a survey covering 900 reports on studies of biotech crops’ impact on human health. The assessment of epidemiological data on the incidence of cancer and other human-health problems over time found no substantial evidence that foods from biotech crops were less safe than foods from nonbiotech crops.

The European Commission in Belgium concludes that, “from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are no more risky than conventional breeding technology.”

Indeed, for the last two decades, biotech crops contributed to food, feed and fiber security, and increased productivity by 574 million tons and economic gain of smallholder farmers by $167.8 billion.

In 2016 up to 18 million farmers in 26 countries planted 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops (i.e., corn, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya, squash, potato, eggplant and pineapple) as reported by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications.

In the Philippines about 800,000 hectares of Bt corn were planted last year which greatly improved the livelihood of farmers due to higher yields and lower costs of production.

From the foregoing, the Philippines urgently needs strong political support for biotechnology and biotech crops in order to produce more food for a continuously ballooning population that is growing at 2.7 percent per year on a shrinking arable land.

Motivated by love of country, Filipino biotechnology scientists work hard to advance their knowledge on this field without much fanfare to help address such a challenge. Unfortunately, their scientific work is not widely understood and appreciated and even rabidly opposed by a strong local and global anti-GMO lobby.

Strong political support for biotechnology is, therefore, needed for Filipino scientists to produce high-yielding, pest-resistant biotech crops that could survive frequent floods, droughts, high temperatures and high salinity in coastal areas due to climate change.

To surmount social and political roadblocks to biotech crops, there is an urgent need to enact a national law that will support and accelerate science-based innovations and technology, reduce time-consuming biosafety regulations and provide an enabling environment for the widespread utilization of results of biotechnology research in different ecosystems throughout the country.

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Dr. Rex L. Navarro, PhD, is a member of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization of the Philippines and former director of Strategic Marketing and Communication, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Andra Pradesh, India.

-Written by Rex L. Navarro in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.