High adoption of biotech crops recorded in 2016

In 2016, the global area of biotech crops reached 185.1 million hectares, according to a research paper authored by Drs. Rhodora Aldemita and Randy Hautea of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The results of their study are published on February 2, 2018 in GM Crops and Food. Read more

Filipino scientists, regulators look into GMO perceptions

GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial, with a number of people around the world saying they have negative impacts to the environment, can cause “genetic pollution” and are not good for human consumption.

Yet, as of June 30, more than 110 Nobel laureates and over 3,500 scientists all over the world have signed a letter addressing and urging Greenpeace International “to reexamine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology; recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies; and abandon their campaign against GMOs, in general, and Golden Rice, in particular.”

According to the World Food Program (WFP), about one out of nine people in the world do not have enough food to live a healthy life. This amounts to 795 million people in the world who are hungry, most of who come from developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the total population lack food to eat.

Furthermore, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public-health problem. A World Health Organization (WHO) data say an estimated 250 million preschool children suffer from VAD together with pregnant women, with 5 percent of this number leads to death every year for children within 12 months of losing their sight.

In the case of the Philippines, it has the highest poverty incidence among its Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers. With a national poverty of 25.8 percent, according to World Bank data, the Philippines has a lot of work to do to alleviate poverty and address issues of public health, such as VAD.

This is where GMO, such as the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt talong (eggplant) and Golden Rice, enters as a solution to relieve and, eventually, end the battle against VAD and hunger; and give the farmers a chance to provide food while farming sustainably and efficiently without the threat of having shortage or attacks of insects that kill their crops, GMO experts and advocates say.

GMO issue
“The real debate is safety,” said Benigno Peczon, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “We already have overwhelming evidence for 20 years’ use that they are safe,” he emphasized.

In his presentation at the forum on GM Crops: Public Perception and Trade Regulation Practices held at the University of the Philippines Law Center in Quezon City, Peczon discussed how the applications of modern biotechnology in the agriculture area has benefited farmers.

Bt corn has been planted in the Philippines for more than 14 years now, or since 2002, in more than 800,000 hectares by farmers.

“In traditional plant breeding, related plants are interbred until the desired trait emerges,” Peczon said, noting that it costs time and effort to do this kind of technique, where they shuffle and crossbreed recurrent parent plant with desirable characteristics, such as high yield and adaptation.

For Peczon, one of the main objectives in agriculture is to ensure that only the desired plant grows. He added, “as far as the farmers are concerned, anything that competes with the crop of choice is undesirable, getting rid of weeds is not easy and can be costly.”

Bt corn in the Philippines
Leonardo Gonzales, founding president and chairman of Sikpa/Strive Inc., said at the same forum in his lecture, entitled “Socioeconomic Impact Assessment: The Bt Corn Experience,” Bt is “a naturally occurring soil-borne bacterium where it produces crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects.”

The Bt corn is a GMO which, through genetic engineering, the Bt gene was incorporated in the corn plant’s DNA to enhance its resistance against insect attacks, such as the Asiatic corn borer. This method helped many farmers produce corn resistant to insects and saved them money from using pesticides.

“Bt corn required 54-percent less pesticides than ordinary hybrid [OH] corn in order to produce the same amount of corn grain from 2003 to 2011,”Gonzales said.

For Gonzales, Bt corn has had other empirical findings. One of which is on fertilizer use.

He said, “Bt corn adopters, on the average, were 9-percent more efficient in the use of fertilizer than ordinary hybrid corn-seed users.” This, after more than 10 years of planting the GMO plant, has indicated positive environmental impacts among corn producers.

Another finding, according to Gonzales, was that the average yield advantage of Bt corn over OH corn, was 19 percent and a cost advantage of 10 percent compared to OH corn, with a 42 percent higher return on investment from 2003 to 2011.

Last, Bt corn consistently outperformed OH corn by 29 percent in meeting food and poverty thresholds in the same timeframe.

“Technological innovations, like the GM products, are sustainable if they provide socioeconomic impacts to society. They are either compliant with the basic requirements of the natural resources, and if it does not comply with that, it will die a natural death,” Gonzales said.

He added, “We believe in the hypothesis that in the long term, the role of new technology is to lower your cost so that you will become efficient in the production of that commodity.” To be concluded

-Written by Stephanie Tumampos, BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Drought reduces Bt maize area, but sector still upbeat

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – Drought reduced the area planted to genetically modified (GM) corn in the country in 2015.

Over the past decade when the country began producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize, the area planted to this pest-resistant and high-yielding crop peaked at 831,000 hectares in 2014.

In 2015, however, drought conditions in the country’s corn-growing regions decreased the area to 702,000 hectares, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Drought also diminished the number of farmers growing Bt corn, from 415,000 in 2014 to about 350,000 in 2015.

“Maize planting and production in the Philippines were affected by the continuous drought in the country since the first half of 2015,” ISAAA noted in a report titled “20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015.”

But the corn-growing sector is undeterred by the unfavorable weather-induced temporary setback as it continues to look forward to bright prospects as “homegrown” biotech products are likely to be commercialized in the near future. Their optimism stems from the fact that over the short period of 12 years (2003 when Bt corn growing began in the country to 2014), the Philippines has gained $560 million (about P26.3 billion) from biotech maize.

ISAAA presented the 20-year report at the “2016 Media Conference on the Global Adoption of Biotech Crops” held recently at the Acacia Hotel in Alabang, Muntinlupa City organized by ISAAA and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) based in the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB).

United States-based ISAAA is a non-profit organization sponsored by public and private sector organizations with an international network of centers that contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger by sharing knowledge on crop biotechnology applications. One of the network’s units, the ISAAA Southeast Asia Center, is based in Los Baños.

The speakers at the media forum were ISAAA board chair Paul Teng, SEARCA director Gil Saguiguit Jr., Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology program director Vivencio Mamaril, ISAAA global coordinator and SEAsia Center director Randy Hautea, Rhodora Aldemita (also of ISAAA), Eufemio Rasco Jr. of the National Academy of Science and Technology, ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan and Gour Pada Das, both of Bangladesh.

Since 1996, ISAAA has been publishing an annual report on the global adoption of GM biotech crops with particular emphasis on their impact in developing countries.

SEARCA’s support for this event and many others “is part of our commitment to push for technologies and practices that will address the challenge of feeding a growing population struggling with poverty and hunger amid natural resources threatened by changing extreme climate conditions,” Saguiguit said.

ISAAA also asserted that despite the adverse climate change conditions across the world, farmers – particularly the small, resource-poor ones – have not been deterred from growing biotech crops.

On the whole, it stated, an unprecedented cumulative area of two billion hectares of biotech crops equivalent to twice the land area of the US (937 million hectares) were cultivated globally in up to 28 countries annually, from 1996 to 2015.

“Farmer benefits for 1996 to 2015 were conservatively estimated at over $150 billion,” ISAAA said. Up to more or less 18 million risk-averse, small, and resource-poor farmers (90 percent) in developing countries benefited annually.

The annual global area of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014. It increased a hundredfold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015, “making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times,” ISAAA stressed.

In the case of the Philippines, it said, the country continues to be in the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Asia as well as a model for science-based and thorough regulatory policy.

“Biotech maize has been planted since 2003 and the country is gearing up for the possible commercialization of public-private sector collaboration such as Golden Rice, Bt eggplant, virus-resistant papaya, and Bt cotton,” ISAAA said.

In a study, the Filipino farmer-respondents said that they continued to adopt Bt corn because of its high income, pest resistance, good grain quality, available financing, lesser production cost and availability of seeds.

–Written by Rudy Fernandez, The Philippine Star.  See article link here.