The SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) released its 2018 Policy Brief series, which is the latest addition to its knowledge resources. The series is the product of SEARCA BIC’s collaboration with scientists and experts to enlighten policy-makers on a range of agricultural biotechnology trends and issues.
The five policy briefs highlight and provide deeper insights on various topics including the cost of regulatory delays for genetically modified crops; the need to strengthen support for biotechnology in the Philippines; new plant breeding techniques; consensus of the scientific community on the safety of GMO technology; and an analysis on personal constructs and social discourses on GMOs.
The 2018 Policy Brief series is produced in partnership with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO), Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), and DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).
Message or narrative frames (or key messages or story lines grouped together in support of a particular message) in biotechnology more often than not pertain to agriculture and food production, or medicine. Both messages and narrative frames (that of agricultural production and medicine) suggests the linearity in a way biotechnology is currently viewed by the public. Such narratives may contain metaphors and frames that play an important role in the communication of science, and have direct impact on public opinion, and eventually, government policy. Such entrenched metaphors and frames can likewise contribute to the misunderstanding of the science itself.
The fifth Policy Brief, which is based on a recent study conducted by Dr. Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena (Program Head of SEARCA’s Knowledge Management Department), explores how the public makes sense of message frames used by the government when disseminating information about genetic modification or biotechnology. It also explores the public’s (specifically, farmer leaders and traders) personal constructs about the science, and how these aid them when participating in societal discourse about GM crops.
Substantially, results of the study suggest that although biotechnology adoption is seen as a major element in the promotion of Philippine agricultural development, the communication gap may be well placed in the numerous communication channels and networks involved in the numerous advocacy efforts. Hence, future science communication efforts need to be based on a systematic and empirical understanding of the audience’s values, knowledge, and attitudes in relation to the respective interpersonal and social contexts.
Conventional plant breeding using the backcrossing procedure can be time consuming, expensive, and imprecise. In addition to time and cost limitations, it does not allow transfer of genes between species which are genetically distantly related and sexually incompatible.
With the advances in modern technology, new plant breeding techniques have emerged which not only allow transfer of genes from unrelated species to produce transgenics or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but also allow introduction of precise, predictable modifications in an elite genetic background, avoiding the mess and cost associated with sorting tens and thousands of genes mixed up in conventional plant breeding.
In the fourth Policy Brief, Dr. Emil Q. Javier expounds on a novel genetic technique, the CRISPR/Cas9 system which has wide applications in plant and animal breeding as well as in drug development and human gene therapy. CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a natural immune defense system found in lower forms of organisms like bacteria and has been tweaked to work in higher plants, animals including man as a precise, relatively quick and inexpensive method of genome editing.
Despite the long enunciated national policy on safe, responsible use of modern biotechnology, a few local government units in the Philippines have unilaterally passed resolutions and ordinances banning genetically modified (GM) crops in their respective jurisdictions. Across the globe, particularly in Europe, there are still many skeptics who refuse to recognize the potential value to mankind of GMO technology in crops to enhance farmers’ income, raise yields, improve adaptation to drought and other environment stresses, as well as to increase their nutritive value.
In the third Policy Brief, Dr. Emil Q. Javier, a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and Chair of the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), puts a spotlight on the scientific consensus in favor of GMO technology based on published statements of the world’s leading academies of science and responsible agencies.
These statements essentially validate the potential of GMO technology to increase and improve the efficiency of production of main food staples, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers. The scientific community also concurred that GMO technology is safe and that no effects on human health have been shown as a result of consumption of GM foods.
Authored by the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), the paper highlights the urgent need for strong political support for biotechnology and biotech crops as well as streamlined biosafety regulations in the Philippines.
Specifically, the need to enact a national law that will support and accelerate science-based innovations and technology, reduce time-consuming regulations, and provide an enabling environment for Filipino scientists to produce high-yielding, pest-resistant biotech crops that could survive in different ecosystems throughout the Philippines and support the country’s continuously ballooning population.