OPINION: Must we fear GMOs or start listening to science?

AS we are bombarded by scare tactics against plants with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn and Bt eggplant, we do not realize that almost everything we eat, many of the medicines we take, the cotton-based apparel we wear, the detergents we use in washing clothes and many of the beverages and processed canned goods we take are already genetically modified (GM).

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Genetic Engineering — Its global benefits now and beyond

Agriculture could be defined as the manipulation of plant and animal DNA to suit the needs of humans. We have been changing the DNA of our food for 10,000 years. For most of agricultural history, we’ve had no idea what DNA changes occurred in our food. The discovery of recombinant DNA technologies in the 1970s began to change that. For the past 20 years we have been using genetic engineering (GE) to engineer precise DNA changes in our food.

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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.

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PHL may soon export genetically modified corn–Monsanto exec

AFTER becoming corn-self-sufficient in 2012, the Philippines may soon become an exporter of corn.

This was emphasized by Gabriel O. Romero, Regulatory Affairs Lead of Monsanto Philippines Inc., during a forum organized by Monsanto Philippines and the Publishers Association of the Philippines Inc.

The Joint Media Forum, with the theme “Towards Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security”, aims to “enlighten” members of the media of the safety of genetically modified (GM), crops and its socioeconomic benefits.

Romero said the global adoption of GM crops is proof that farmers worldwide have benefited from improved crop varieties aided by gene-splicing technique. He said around 812,000 hectares of the estimated 1 million yellow-corn areas, or about 80 percent to 85 percent, are planted to GM corn.

“There is a rule that the corn farmers can only export if and the Philippines become 120-percent self-sufficient,” Romero said.

The spirit of the law prohibiting farmers from exporting corn is to ensure that the country will have sufficient buffer stock.

“Our level of sufficiency is playing from 96 percent to 100 percent,” Romero said. “We can export corn anytime, but there is a law that prohibits farmers.”

Romero added the erratic price of corn somehow prompted corn farmers to look at the possibility of exporting GM corn.

He cited China and Indonesia as potential markets for Filipino  corn farmers.

Legal planting

IN the Philippines, the cultivation of GM corn, such as the insect-resistant Bt-corn and roundup-ready corn varieties, is preferred over hybrid or native varieties because of its benefits, according to Romero.

Romero said that, before, it was only India and the Philippines planting GM crops in Asia. “Australia has its GM cotton; India has GM eggplant or  Bt eggplant. Now, Myanmar is planting GM cotton,” Rotmero said sans citing sources.

Romero added that China has been into GM cotton and GM papaya, while Pakistan is now also planting GM cotton.

“Not all of these are ‘legal planting’,” Romero said, adding that legal planting is only in the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia.

“In Bangladesh farmers found out that GM crops are good and decided to adopt [the cropping] even without the regulatory system in place,” he said.

Production levels

THERE are only around 10 countries growing GM crops.

But, as far as user-countries are  concerned, many all allow the importation of GM products or by-products like Japan, South Korea, Taipan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.

“Right now, their production levels might be high enough so they are happy to import, and they don’t need to grow, but, sooner or later, they will grow GM crops,” Romero said.

He added that the next GM crops to see commercialization would include apples
and potatoes.

Nina G. Gloriani, leader of a group advocating the commercialization of GM crops in the Philippines, said the country has the most stringent regulatory policy on GM crops. According to Gloriani, the Joint Memorandum Circular on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) even enforced a more stringent regulatory policy.

She debunked the claim of environmental groups and anti-GMO advocates that GM crops are unsafe and pose great health and environment risks.

“Regulation of GM foods are assessed according to national and international standards before they are allowed for importation and commercialization,” said Gloriani, president of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines. “There are also food standards to protect consumer health and ensure fair food practices.”

-Written by Jonathan Mayuga in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Biotech crops offer economic benefits

The economic benefits of planting biotech crops can never be underscored enough. According to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Filipino farmers who planted Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn from 2003 to 2015 earned an estimated $642 million. For 2015 alone, ISAAA said farm income reached around $82 million. At the average exchange rate of P45.50 to the greenback, corn farmers netted P3.73 billion in 2015.
 

According to ISAAA, the Philippines ranks 12th in biotech crop commercialization for 2016, when 812,000 hectares of biotech maize have been planted. This is 16 percent higher than the 702,000 hectares planted with Bt corn in 2015. Data from the ISAAA also showed that adoption rates also increased last year to 65 percent, from 63 percent in 2015. The number of small farmers growing on average 2 hectares of Bt corn in the Philippines last year was estimated at 406,000, according to ISAAA.

Bt corn was the first genetically modified crop to be commercialized in the Philippines since 2002, when the government rolled out a regulatory framework that is considered a model in Southeast Asia. “The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia and has a model for science-based and thorough regulatory policy in the region,” the ISAAA said in its report. Despite this, however, only one crop—Bt corn—has been commercialized.

There are a number of biotech crops that are currently in the pipeline: Golden Rice, Bt cotton, biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus, and the controversial fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant. The prospects of commercializing Bt eggplant, or Bt talong, dimmed when the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in December 2015 to stop its field testing. The SC also halted the processing of applications for contained use, field testing, propagation, commercialization and importation of GM products when it nullified Administrative Order 8 issued by the Department of Agriculture in 2002.

While the SC reversed its decision in August 2016, proponents of Bt talong have yet to push through with the field testing of the crop. Other crops in the pipeline, such as the Golden Rice, have yet to reach the field testing stage. But because it is the country’s staple, Golden Rice’s commercialization will not be smooth sailing. This, despite the absence of definitive proof that GM crops are harmful to human health and the existence of a regulatory framework that is regarded as worth emulating in other parts of the region.

Biotech crops, such as Bt corn, allow farmers to save on production cost because they will no longer have to extensively use pesticides to kill the corn borer insect. For now, only corn farmers in the Philippines are reaping the benefits offered by biotech crops. Hastening the commercialization of other biotech crops would allow more Filipino farmers to enjoy higher incomes and help them get out of poverty.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article linke here.

 

Philippines leads Southeast Asia in GM corn production

Philippines leads Southeast Asia in GM corn production

On May 19, 2017, media practitioners, farmers, and government agency officers were briefed during a media conference on ISAAA’s latest report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 at the Acacia Hotel, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines.

The 2016 report states that Philippine biotech corn adoption increased to 812,000 hectares in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase (110,000 hectares) from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country. The other two countries in Southeast Asia that planted biotech crops in 2016 are Myanmar and Vietnam.

ISAAA Board Chair Dr. Paul S. Teng presented the report, including the global impact and future prospects of biotech crops. SEARCA Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. said that the 2016 figures surpass previous records and attest to the effectiveness and benefits of biotechnology.

Meanwhile, Officer-in-Charge and Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry; and Director of the Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries Biotechnology Program of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril, reported on the biosafety regulatory developments in the country, particularly the harmonization of the Joint Department Circular by the five government departments, namely the Departments of Agriculture; Science and Technology; Environment and Natural Resources; Health; and the Interior and Local Government. The JDC is the latest biosafety regulatory guidelines for biotech crops in the Philippines, and is expected to regulate the testing and commercialization of other biotech crops in the pipeline, including Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice.

ISAAA: Surplus, exports possible with Bt corn

The Philippines has the potential to become the top exporter of corn in Asean, especially if more Filipino farmers would plant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn to expand their output, according to international experts.
 

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri Biotech Applications (ISAAA) told the BusinessMirror that planting more Bt corn would allow the Philippines to have a corn surplus, which it could export to neighboring Asian countries.

“Many Asian countries are short of corn and the Philippines could supply their requirement,” Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA board of trustees chairman, said on the sidelines of a news briefing on the global status of genetically modified (GM) crops in 2016, held recently in Alabang.

“Malaysia imports corn, Indonesia imports corn, so these countries would look for possible sources. Only the Philippines plants Bt corn in this region and it has a good history of growing corn, so I think it could become an exporter,” Teng added.

He also noted that the cost of shipping from the Philippines is much lower.

Based on the report of the ISAAA, titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2016”, the total hectarage planted with Bt corn in the Philippines reached 812,000 hectares, making the country the 12th-biggest producer of GM crops in the world. The figure was 16 percent higher than the 702,000 hectares recorded in 2015.

“The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks,” ISAAA said.

ISAAA also reported that the adoption rate of Bt corn by Filipino farmers increased to 65 percent in 2016, from 63 percent in 2014. This means that out of the total 1.248 million hectares planted with corn, 812,000 hectares were of Bt seed varieties.

Out of the planted hectarage, 679 hectares were planted with stack traits corn, while the remaining 133,000 hectares were planted with single trait corn.

“In 2003 the area for Bt corn did not even reach 50,000 hectares, and now we are talking about 800,000 hectares. We have yet to receive reports that Bt maize has done harm or caused ailment,” Bureau of Plant Industry OIC Director Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril said.

“The mere fact that planting area grew to 800,000 hectares is proof that it is a successful crop and farmers believed in it,” Mamaril added.

The ISAAA report noted that Filipino farmers earned an estimated $642 million from planting GM corn in 2003 to 2015. In 2015 alone, farmers recorded earnings of $82 million.

The number of small resource-poor farmers, growing on average 2 hectares of biotech maize in the Philippines in 2016, was estimated at 406,000, up from 350,000 in 2015. Biotech maize is the only GM crop commercialized in the Philippines.

Since the approval of Bt maize in 2003, a total of 6.03 million hectares have been planted with the GM crop, according to the estimates of ISAAA.

The Philippines is currently in the process of developing other biotech crops, including the Bt eggplant, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice.

Written by Jasper Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Scientists to release biotech maize, cotton varieties in Kenya

Kenyan scientists have used modern biotechnology to develop two crop varieties that are expected to be released in the country soon.

Simon Gichuki of the Kenya Agricultural, Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) Biotechnology Research Institute (BioRI) said that the maize and cotton varieties are already awaiting the National Performance Trials before they can be released for field trials, while gypsophilla flower will follow soon.

“The products have been produced within the country by local scientists where risk assessment has been done in accordance with the law,” he said during an agricultural biotechnology sensitization workshop in Nairobi on Friday.

Gichuki noted that genetically modified drought- and pest-resistant cassava, sorghum and sweet potato are due to be complete soon.

Julia Njagi, a biosafety officer at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), revealed that the authority has approved 24 crop varieties for laboratory and greenhouse trials, 14 for Confined Field Trials (CFT) and three for environmental trials.

She added that the two varieties are pending approval and are at the laboratory and environmental release stages.

Research on Bt cotton was completed in 2002-2012 and approved by NBA for National Performance Trials (NPT) by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize variety has also been approved and is undergoing NPT by KEPHIS experts. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

-Published in NewsGhana.  See original article link here.

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

searcabic_btcornharvestISAAA states that in 2016, 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech/GM corn was planted in the Philippines in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015 which is equivalent to 110,000 hectares. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country today.

Adoption rates of biotech/GM corn also increased from 63% in 2015 to 65% in 2016, when the number of small, resource-poor farmers, growing on average, 2 hectares of biotech/GM corn in the Philippines was estimated to be over 406,000. According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech/GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached US$642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech/GM crop on farm income was estimated at US$82 million.

ISAAA’s 2016 report which was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China also states that there are only 13 biotech/GM corn events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the last approval given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (2 events), rapeseed (2), cotton (8), corn (52), potato (8), rice (1), soybean (14), and sugar beet (1).

Current research and development efforts on biotech/GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistance, also being developed by IPB-UPLB; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA, formerly the Cotton Development Authority); and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of biotech/GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public, such that a Joint Department Circular (JDC) was quickly put together in record time of three months in 2016 after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8) which served as the government policy for biotech/GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.

Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.

biotechcornfarmerMore than 18 million small farmers and their families have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years. ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications and environmental impact by 19% in 1996-2015, and 18.4% in 2015 alone. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.

INFOGRAPHICS: Philippine biotech/GM crops adoption in 2016

INFOGRAPHICS: Philippine biotech/GM crops adoption in 2016

The Philippines was first country in Southeast Asia to plant biotech corn in 2003 after its approval for commercial planting in 2002.  An estimated of 6.03 million hectares of land in the country was planted with biotech corn since then.

This infographics describes the Philippine adoption of biotech/GM crops in 2016.  Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.

Download infographics

Use of high-yielding GM varieties will allow farmers to export corn

The government should promote the use of higher-yielding genetically modified (GM) seed varieties to boost corn output and enable farmers to export, according to an executive of Monsanto Philippines Inc. (MPI).

MPI Country Commercial Lead Rachelle Lomibao said expanding the use of modern technology will help the government achieve its goal of exporting corn in the near future.

“If you just increase the yield average per hectare then you don’t have to increase the number of hectares to be planted with corn. You just increase productivity per hectare and that’s not impossible,” Lomibao told the BusinessMirror on the sidelines of the company’s media launch of a new hybrid corn seed variety on Monday.

However, the MPI executive said the use of hybrid-corn seed varieties alone is not enough to turn the Philippines’s dream of exporting the crop into a reality.

“It’s not just about the seeds; it has to be accompanied by a lot of factors: fertilization, right agronomic practices, right management of water and right management of diseases and pests,” Lomibao said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said the Philippines will achieve a “historic feat” this year by exporting corn due to a surplus in output.

However, Lomibao said she doesn’t see this happening this year.

“We may not be able to export this year due to the gap between the supply and demand,” she said.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country’s self-sufficiency ratio on corn declined to 91.35 percent in 2015, from 93.12 percent
recorded in 2014.

On Monday MPI rolled out Dekalb 6999S, a hybrid corn seed variety, which has a potential yield of 13.6 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha), more than triple than the country’s average yield of 4 MT/ha.

“Based on our trials it has a potential yield of as much as 13.6 MT/ha. This variety can be used both for wet and dry seasons,” MPI Marketing Lead Pam Valenzuela told reporters in a news briefing on Monday.

“This variety is what we need to reduce the gap between what is currently being produced and the demand,” Valenzuela added.

Dekalb 6999S contains Genuity, a Monsanto trait technology that makes the crop resistant to pests, such as corn borer, earworm and cutworm, according to MPI. MPI also said its latest product is protected against weeds due to its Round Up Ready component.

When asked if the MPI’s latest seed variety could withstand extreme weather condition such as drought, Lomibao said, “it will thrive.”

“Dekalb has been known to have a germplasm that is really resilient against drought. Our previous variety the Dekalb 6919 survived when planted during the last time we had El Niño,” she said.

“The germplasm, which is drought-tolerant used in 6919, is the same with that of Dekalb 6999S. We are confident that with Dekalb 6999s farmers can still be accorded with an optimum yield through our hybrid [seeds],” she added.

Lomibao also disclosed that there are several hybrid corn seed varieties currently in the pipeline.

-Written by Jasper Y. Aracalas in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas is a graduate of the UST Journalism School (Batch 2016). He currently covers agribusiness for the BusinessMirror. He joined the news outfit in August 2016.

EU Court Adviser Sets High Bar for States’ GMO Bans

(CN) – An EU high court adviser on Thursday gave member states a very limited go-ahead to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops, but only if they can prove the crops are “a serious and evident risk likely to endanger health and the environment.”

European Court of Justice Advocate General Michal Bobek’s advisory opinion is another marker in the long fight over genetically modified crops in the EU. In 1998, the European Commission authorized the cultivation of MON 810, a genetically modified maize, basing its decision on findings by EU scientists that there was no reason to believe the crop would have adverse effects on health or the environment.

But in 2013, the Italian government asked the commission to ban MON 810 in light of research done by two research institutes there. The commission refused, noting more recent studies done by the European Food Safety Authority that found no cause for concern.

The Italian government forged ahead and banned the cultivation of MON 810, and prosecuted farmers who grew it despite the ban.

Some of those prosecuted appealed, leading an Italian court to ask the European Court of Justice whether something known as the “precautionary principle” – which an increasingly at-risk society can rely on to protect itself from the unintended consequences of rapid scientific progress and new technologies – justified Italy’s emergency ban on the GMO.

In a thoughtful 10-page opinion, Bobek noted up front that EU law tailors the precautionary principle more narrowly – and one of two regulations on GMOs doesn’t mention it at all. The one that does, which covers genetically modified food, requires a full assessment of the product in question that reveals “scientific uncertainty regarding the possible harmful effects on health of a food,” Bobek wrote.

So while in theory member states are allowed to pass emergency national legislation on the basis of the precautionary principle, it’s much more difficult to do so for GMO products because EU law requires them to be rigorously vetted before they’re even allowed on the market. Scientific understanding of the crops would have to change in order for member states to pass emergency bans, Bobek said.

The adviser also noted that since Italy’s ban on MON 810, two events have changed the GMO landscape in Europe: in 2015, EU lawmakers made it possible for member states to restrict or ban GMO cultivation, and in 2016 – giving in to the demands of Italy and 18 other states – the commission banned MON 810 in those territories.

But Bobek said neither event affects the case at hand, since they happened after Italy initiated criminal proceedings against the scofflaw farmers.

Bobek’s opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its deliberations of the case.

-Written by Wiliam Dotinga in Courthouse News Service.  See original article link here.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

China is the world’s largest importer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and one of the largest producers of GE cotton in the world, but it has not yet approved any major GE food crops for cultivation. As a part of its rule revision plan, in 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released the “Revised Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms” (MOA Decree 7 [2016]). The “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Innovation” aims to push forward the commercialization of a new domestic type of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt cotton, and herbicide-resistant soybeans by 2020. At the same time, delays in import approvals continue to worsen, causing unpredictability for traders and delaying the adoption of needed new varieties in exporting countries such as the United States.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of  its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.

 

Kenya: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Kenya’s progress in agricultural biotechnology has suffered a setback after the National Assembly’s Agriculture committee recommended that a new food safety law on genetically engineered (GE) products be put in place, before the 2012 import ban is lifted. The Agriculture committee’s move follows an earlier decision by Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to retract the open field trials license for Bt corn.

Kenya: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report. View article link here.

COMMENTARY: Biotechnology: What is in there for us?

Thank you to the organizers of this forum for kindly inviting me to share my views on biotechnology especially on its effects on our country and people.

Even as I am no expert on the nature of biotechnology, or its effects on edible plants and consumable meats, I am thankful that I am given the opportunity to discuss the topic which, like it or not, affects the wellbeing of our country and people.

Bt corn

Some 15 years ago today, at the first conference in Manila of Bishops with Scientists on January 29, 2001, I was also given the privilege to speak, be it only on broad strokes, on the issue of Biotechnology, particularly as it related to Bt corn.

I told the forum, then, that as a layman and as a legislator, I had no preconceived notions as to whether or not GMOs, or more specifically Bt corn, were good or bad.

Emotionally charged-issue

What I knew, then, was that the issue of Bt corn experimental farms in some parts of the country had become so emotionally charged that some of our NGOs and farmers took the law into their own hands by raiding the farms and uprooting the corn crops that had been planted there by certain foreign corporations engaged in GMO experimentation.

The thing, however, is that even at that time, both the GMO experimental farms and the acts of those opposing them had repercussions for good or ill to our country.

Naturally, if the experimental farms would produce more, and cheaper – and safe – food for our people and for our farm animals, then, the experimentations would be good for us and should, therefore, be promoted.

If, on the other hand, the experimental farms would cause ill health to our people and to our animals or destroy the food farms of our farmers, then, the experiments would be bad for us and should be banned.

The other day, I made a fast research in the internet and found the following data:

Europe bans Bt crops

In Europe, “19 of the 28 members of the European Union, including Germany and France, have voted to prohibit farmers from cultivating biotech crops. Scotland independently also voted to ban GMO cultivation.” [Google]

Still, under 2015 EU regulations, “countries can opt out of GM consents on a case-by-case basis.”

Opting out

And last year, on October 5 2015, the DAILY NEWS in New York reported that:

“Countries seizing the opportunity to opt out (of the ban against GMOs) include Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Regions within member states have also joined the exodus, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK, and Wallonia in Belgium.”

“And Countries that are anti-GM continue to feed their animals GMOs … It’s ironic that the countries that voted against approval of GM crops still import large amounts of GM ingredients for their animals.”

Africa

And in Africa, “only Kenya has banned the importation of food containing GMOs.” xxx

“For the first time, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) recently approved open field trials of Bt maize xxx. This is the clearest signal that the country is moving forward with a scientific-based regulatory system. There are on-going confined field trials (CFTs) for maize, sorghum, cassava and other crops.”

[The data are also culled from ‘GMO Answers’]
Japan’s ambivalence

Closer to home, I made a quick search on Japan’s attitude towards GMOs.

It appears that a Japanese law bans the growing of any genetically modified seeds or crops in Japan. However, Japanese food manufacturers are actively importing “Roundup Ready” GMO canola grown in Canada primarily to manufacture canola oil.

If the report is true, it simply means that Japan has an ambivalent attitude towards GMOs.

How, then, should we treat GMOs or Bt corn specifically in our country?

I suggest that we leave the matter to our biotech scientists to determine whether or not GMOs or Bt corns are safe not only for animal, but, more specifically, for human consumption.

But, let us keep the issue alive by making the public aware that GMOs or Bt corns are now getting more positive treatment in many parts of the globe. And, at the very least, our national stand on the matter as to whether or not GMOs or Bt corns should be guided by scientific knowhow.

By now, scientific experiments, I understand, tend to show that GMOs, in general, are proven safe not only for “animal” but for human consumption as well.

And, if the matter is validated by our own science and technology department, duly assisted by proper research, there should no longer be any reluctance from our government institutions and our people to actively promote the production, sale and consumption of GMOs or Bt products.

For today, I understand that the results of GMOs, or the Bt corn experimentations, in general, show that those agricultural products are made resistant to ordinary plant diseases and they dispense with the more expensive and ill-health causing pesticides.

Moreover, the country is, thus, enabled to produce more food for human and animal consumption than ever before.

There are fears, however, that in the process of experimentation, poisons are spread to nearby corn farms that endanger the crops there directly or make them more dependent on pesticides or farm inputs than ever before. And, that the net effect of that negative aspect would be for us to import food from foreign producers.

These were legitimate concerns in the past. But, now, it seems that those apprehensions are being addressed in a scientific manner.

Filipino farmers’ positive experiences

We can cite the example of a lady farmer, Rosalie Eliazus, who had been using Bt corn seeds and had been harvesting bonanzas.

In her words, she planted Bt corn seeds in a hectare of her farmland that cost her something like P9,000. This amount was roughly P3500 more than what it would have cost her if she used non-Bt corn.

The fact, however, is that she also harvested much more by her use of Bt corn seeds, and in the process, it also relieved her of the need to use of pesticides by as much as 45 percent. And her harvests remained positively bountiful last year despite the drought that plagued the area where her farm land is located.

In brief, when she used Bt corn seeds, she harvested more than triple the usual yield of the same farm land area that she had been cultivating in the past.

Another recent report on a successful experiment on Bt corn comes from farmer Edwin Paraluman, chairman of the Philippine Farmers Advisory Board, in General Santos City.

His emphasis is on the safety of Bt corn which, he said, he had been eating for the last 12 years. His experience, he says, is proof that BT corn is fit for human consumption.

The conclusion now seems inevitable that the Bt is here to stay as it has proven its worth in enhancing the volume of the harvest of crops and in vastly increasing the income of the farmers using Bt seeds.

In other lands, Bt experiments are also producing more in terms of crop harvest volumes and in the process they deliver bigger sums of money to the Bt users.

Religion, no basis to ban Bt crops

Incidentally, I might mention that in the not too distant past, some religious contentions were raised against the use of Bt in the production of crops for the dietary needs of mankind.

Happily, in my view, the controversies were laid to rest sooner than latter, because the concerned Pontiffs of Rome in those times backed up by learned scientists put their reputations on the line to tell the world that Bt products are fit for human consumption and for the good of creatures inhabiting the earth.

Specific Pontiffs

In 1951, Pope Pius XII, himself, said in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Science that science bears “witness to the primordial Fiat Lux, let there be light.”

And 41 years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II reiterated this theme of Pope Pius XII’s in a speech, entitled Faith Can Never Contradict Reason, that he made before the Pontifical Academy of Science.

He said that: “the Church, by virtue of her specific mission, is obliged to pay close attention to problems no longer related merely to astronomy, physics and mathematics, but also to relatively new disciplines such as biology and biogenetics.

“Many recent scientific discoveries and their possible applications affect man more directly than ever before, his thought and action, to the point of seeming to threaten the very basis of what is human.”

The Bishop of Rome further said that:

“in a general way, xxx the pastor ought to show a genuine boldness, avoiding the double trap of a hesitant attitude and of hasty judgment, both of which can cause considerable harm.”

On that occasion, Pope John Paul II also rectified the condemnation of Galileo by Church authorities in 1611 for his insistence that the earth revolved around the sun and not the sun around the earth.

Scientists support GMOs

Renown men of science like Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard evolutionist, was one such scientist who argued that there was no contradiction between traditional religious beliefs and the worldview of modern science.

Another one was Stephen Hawking, the eminent British scientist who has tried to get to the bottom of many scientific theories including Einstein’s theory of relativity. He also concluded that there was no inevitable conflict between the theory of Creation of the world, and the scientific theory of existence of the world.

Let me now suggest that whether or not GMOs or Bt corn would be good for our people should be left to the better judgment of our relevant scientific agencies.

Remembering Boethius

In the process, we should be guided by the advice of Boethius, a learned man who wrote in the 4th century, A.D., that it would be best for those who are religiously inclined and scientifically curious to “join faith to reason as far as you are able.”

In this discussion, I found it fit to insert a brief sharing of certain religious attitudes because, whether we like it or not, the majority of our people are guided in their daily lives by the tenets of Christianity.

It is important to remember that the leaders of our Church are no longer blind to the advances of science and that, we do have pastors in our Church who would conjoin faith and reason in addressing matters of concern to our people and country in this time and age.

Duty to spread truth

As citizens of this country, I think it is our duty to help spread the truth about things that have the potential to make cheap and safe food available to our people and to inform them of things that endanger their health and welfare.

I think it is time that we make full use of the advances of biotechnology – where applicable – and use it to help free our people from hunger – and from ignorance – so that they in turn may not only be receivers, but sharers of the wealth of the nation with those in dire need of it.

Salamat, for your kindness and patience in hearing our views on the topic at hand.

[Former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. delivered this talk during the opening of the 12th National Biotech Week at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) last Nov. 21, 2016. Pimentel was the Local Governments Secretary in the aftermath of EDSA. He was elected senator in 1987.]

-Published in Minda News.  See article link here.

Corn producers see yield beating growth forecast

The Philippines may exceed the forecast corn production for the remaining months of the year despite huge losses incurred by farmers due to El Niño, a group of corn farmers said.

The Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PhilMaize) said the current climate and soil conditions in the country and usage of high-yielding corn varieties recently approved by the government would offset the low production from the regions still recovering from the effects of the prolonged dry spell.

“I’m optimistic that we can hit the growth forecast. Maybe we can even exceed [the forecast production] with the conditions right now, especially that there’s no forecast drought,” PhilMaize President Roger V. Navarro told the BusinessMirror.

Navarro noted that all the corn-producing regions will produce higher volume due to favorable climate conditions during the next cropping season, except for the Isabela region.

“We have a forecast shortfall in Region 2, especially in Isabela province, because of the effect of the prolonged drought,” Navarro said, adding that the forecast is yet to be validated by concerned officials.

In its August round of forecast for crop production, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has lowered its projection for the country’s corn production in the third quarter of the year to 2.673 million metric tons (MMT) from the 2.696 MMT it forecast earlier in July. However, the agency’s new forecast is still higher than last year’s production in the same period of 2.407 MMT by 11 percent.

“The probable drop in corn output could be attributed to contraction in harvest area brought about by dry spell in Cagayan and Isabela,” the PSA report said.

Based on farmers’ planting intentions, the PSA said the corn production in the fourth quarter of the year will increase by 4.78 percent, from 1.73 MMT in 2015 to 1.81 MMT. For the second half of the year, the PSA said corn production will expand by 8.98 percent.

“Probable increases in harvest areas and yields may be attributed to more plantings with anticipation of rainfall and availability of seeds,” the PSA report said.

The country’s corn production in the first half declined by 16.35 percent to 2.83 MMT, from 3.38 MMT recorded a year ago.

“We are hoping that the planting intentions will not drop given the case in Isabela. We’re hoping that the farmers in Isabela will not be discouraged from farming again,” Navarro said.

The provincial government of Isabela has been under the state of calamity after its Sangguniang Panlalawigan assessed that the dry spell has caused the province some P1 billion worth of damage on corn and palay.

Isabela’s agriculture office has called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to help the farmers by providing at least P200 million worth of fuel and corn seeds.

The latest cropping season for corn started in September and may last until early January, according to the DFAs Agriculture and Fisheries Market Information System.

Bt corn permits

Navarro also said the release of permits allowing corn farmers to use and plant the high-yielding Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) MON89034 and NK603 corn varieties would boost the farmer’s yield throughout the
cropping season.

“Yes, we are going to use those varities already and it will boost our production in hitting the target,”
Navarro said.

“There are regions wherein a certain variety of seed is not applicable or comfortable to the planting area. Given the approval of these varieties, our farmers now have a wider choice on seeds,” he added.

The MON89304 and NK603 corn-seed varieties are resistant to corn borers, cutworm and earworm that infest corn plants during the rainy season. These are preferred by farmers, Navarro said.

The Bureau Plant of Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA, has approved the permit for propagation of the MON89304 and NK603 corn-seed varieties on September 30.

The said Bt corn varieties passed the assessment of six different concerned agencies—as stated under the guidelines of Joint Department Circular (JDC) S2016—regarding the varieties’ health, environmental and socioeconomic implications.

The assessors for MON98034 x NK603 corn varieties are BPI’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel, to evaluate the applicant’s submitted risk-assessment report; the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), to determine the varieties’ effect on the environment; the Department on Health (DOH), to determine the varieties’ impact on environmental health; Insect Resistance Management Team (Irmat), to review and evaluate the application for any IRM related concerns and issues; Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), to determine if the applicant is duly licensed pesticide handler and follows good agricultural practices; and another expert to assess the varieties’ socioeconomic, ethical and cultural (SEC) effects.

“After reviewing the documents submitted by the applicant, the two members of the STRP find scientific evidence that the regulated article applied for commercial propagation has no evidence of interaction on the resulting gene products, while the DOH, DENR, Irmat and SEC expert recommended for the issuance of Biosafety Permit for corn MON89034 x NK603,” according to the consolidated report released by the BPI biotechnology office.

“On the other hand, FPA found that Monsanto Philippines Inc. is a duly licensed pesticide importer, exporter, indentor and national distributor of agricultural pesticides,” the report added.

Five government agencies, including the DA, the DOH and the DENR, issued Joint Department Circular 1 in March to replace Administrative Order (AO) 8, which governed the propagation and importation of genetically modified crops.

The Supreme Court nullified AO 8 in December 2015, when it ruled against the field testing of Bt eggplant.

-Written by Jasper Y. Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Jasper Y. Arcallas is a graduating Journalism student of the University of Santo Tomas and has been contributing to the BusinessMirror. Like his story online via the BusinessMirror Millennials Universe (BMMU) Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Millennial-Universe/435594193285671. Follow BMMU on Twitter via @millennial_U or Instagram (type Millennial Universe). E-mail comments or story to millennialuniverse@yahoo.com and the editor at dennis.estopace@gmail.com.

GMO Bt corn’s underrated ability to reduce mycotoxins benefits health and economy

Bt crops, the sibling to the herbicide resistant crops often maligned by anti-GMO activists, have not only reduced insecticide use in the U.S. but also have a food safety benefit: The reduction of mycotoxin contamination of crops, which can harm both humans and animals.

Bt seeds are engineered to express the cry genes from bacillus thuringiensis, which produces insecticidal toxins so crops are resistant to certain pests. Farmers, most especially organic farmers, have been spraying the natural form of the bacterium for almost a century to great effect and with no measurable environmental hazards, as the toxin only interacts with targeted insects but not humans.

“The benefit of Bt corn’s reduction of mycotoxin damage has been virtually ignored in policy debates anywhere in the world,” Felicia Wu, a Michigan State University food and nutrition professor, has noted.

There are more than 300 known mycotoxins that have different effects on health. Mycotoxins can be produced by fungi, which absorb best into crops that have been damaged from pests. Contamination can occur either in field or in storage. In short, since Bt maize wards off the corn borer, reduced feeding damage allows less fungus to penetrate.

Two of the most prevalent mycotoxins in agriculture are fumonisins and aflatoxins. Fumonisins are found almost exclusively in corn, while aflatoxins can be found on corn as well as cotton, peanuts, pistachios, almonds and walnuts.

Fumonisins have been connected to high human esophageal cancer rates and neural tube defects in human babies, according to the University of Kentucky Agriculture Extension Service. They can also affect a number of animal species. Animals consume the toxins in animal feed, which can lead to fertility problems or diseases—leukoencephalomalacia in horses and porcine pulmonary edema in pigs.

Increased exposure to aflatoxin can increase risk of liver cancer in humans, modulate human immunity and may contribute to childhood stunting, according to a 2014 paper by Wu.

Bt crops also stand to have greater health impacts in developing nations, where higher rates of malnourishment and high exposure to mycotoxin due to little diet diversity can have more devastating effects, Wu said. But genetically modified crops also face political opposition in some of the countries worst afflicted with aflatoxin exposure. In Africa, only South Africa has adopted Bt corn on a wide scale.

Use of Bt crops could also play a role in reducing contamination and economic and environmental losses. In 2011, 180 bags of maize were destroyed in front of starving farmers in Kenya because the maize had been contaminated with aflatoxin.

Though recent numbers were difficult to find, researchers estimated in 2003 that economic losses in the U.S. due to aflatoxin contamination, ranged $163 to $500 million annually, depending on whether all crops and animal health effects are included. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture estimates global losses of about $1.2 billion with African economies losing $450 million annually.

Additionally, global trade between wealthy and less developed nations can worsen losses due to contamination when developing nations export their best food and sell contaminated food locally or when intended exports are rejected and wasted due to food safety limits on mycotoxins from other nations, Wu said.

Additionally, Bt crops could be more environmentally sustainable. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of using Bt corn as a part of a strategy to reduce mycotoxin contamination, which would reduce waste.

The University of Kentucky summed up field studies in the U.S. and Europe on furmonisin contamination, saying reductions have ranged from 20 to 90 percent, often bringing the grain below concentrations that pose risks to humans and the most sensitive animals. Aflatoxin reduction typically ranges from 50 to 90 percent when Bt corn is planted.

In Europe, where Bt corn is the only approved GM crop, Andreas Schier of Nürtigen-Geislingen University in Germany is examining mycotoxin levels in maize using different variants, such as soil management, weed management with insecticides and growing Bt maize.

“The levels are lower if the corn borer is controlled with insecticides, and we get the best effects by growing Bt maize,” Schier said. “We can say that the mycotoxin levels are more or less halved in Bt maize compared with conventional maize grown on the same site without measures to control the European corn borer.”

This applies to three classes of mycotoxins: deoxinivalenol, fumonisins and zearalenone.

There are some caveats. Reductions in mycotoxin are not certain. According to the University of Kentucky Extension Service, the Bt toxin must be expressed in the kernel of corn for it to provide reduced mycotoxin contamination. Genetic background of the corn hybrid can also impact the effectiveness, as can the insect pest that is present. For example, lower mycotoxin levels have been shown from feeding damage caused by the European corn borer but not the corn earworm.

Schier also explained that weather conditions conducive to fungal growth can cause an increase in mycotoxins, as can farm practices, such as straw, soil management and timing of harvest.

“Farmers cannot completely avoid mycotoxin contamination resulting from a serious fungal infection just by growing Bt maize,” Schier said. “All they can do is reduce it to a certain extent.”

In developing countries, other problems exacerbate mycotoxin contamination including low-quality seed, lack of pest control and poor storage, Wu has said.

Nonetheless, growing Bt corn could be a successful part of a strategy to reduce mycotoxin levels.

Rebecca Randall is a journalist focusing on global food and agriculture issues. Follow her @beccawrites.

-Written by Rebecca Randall in Genetic Literacy Project.  See article link here.