Sobriety and the Bt corn issue

Now that the hunger strikers have finally called off their protest action against Bt corn, the country can now resume a truly sober and scientific discussion of the issue. As we have said time and again in this column, biotechnology, genetically modified food products and Bt corn are topics that are best discussed outside the realm of politics. Politics is often propelled by business interests; science is driven by the quest for answers to problems. And in the search for answers, the scientific brain must work without pressure from fear and emotional manipulation.

In all candor, this column respects the views, even the conviction of the hunger strikers. We see the validity of their concerns, for example, that Bt corn could be harmful to human health, that it could contaminate other corn varieties, that it could tie-up Filipino farmers to a single seed supplier. Unfortunately, this is the very thing we have been trying to avoid — to succumb to the hysterical scare campaign of international anti-GMO groups. The rhetoric of anti-GMO lobbyists is full of ‘coulds’ and ‘could-bes’. That is precisely the language of a mind pinioned by hysteria-generated fear.

What anti-GMO groups should accept is that the use of ‘coulds’ and ‘could-bes’ merely underscore that they do not have a convincing scientific stand on the issue. True, they have been quoting some Filipino scientists who are against the commercialization of Bt corn. But again, unfortunately, the language of these savants, with all due respect, are also coated with uncertainties. For example, the over-quoted UP Professor Nelia Cortes-Maramba says Bt corn ‘could spread genes that would render antibiotics ineffective.’ Why could? Because it is not a scientific statement. It is, at best, a word of caution that is as uncertain as an earlier warning to farmers that Bt corn could turn one into a homosexual.

On the one hand, there is greater certainty in the statements of those in favor of biotechnology. For example, farmer-leader Edwin Paraluman says our corn harvests are steadily declining despite the heavy use of chemical insecticides. He adds that chemical insecticides used to kill the Asiatic corn borer are harming our health. Are, not could.

Internationally respected scientist C.S. Prakash of the Tuskegee Institute who first sounded the warning against the multimillion-dollar global Greenpeace scare campaign, in a letter to President Arroyo, said 3,500 scientists from across 60 countries have vouched for the safety of biotech crops, 20 of who are Nobel laureates. The statement of these scientists is sober and devoid of coulds and could bes. For example, they say with certainty that the addition of new or different genes into an organism by recombinant DNA techniques does not inherently pose new or heightened risks relative to more traditional methods.

By all means, all concerned sectors must sit down and discuss — in a sober forum — these issues. In addition, these questions need to be answered: What about the growing dependence of Filipino corn farmers on imported European chemical insecticides? How about the deteriorating quality of traditional corn varieties? How about the declining productivity of our corn farms and the vanishing revenues of our corn farmers?
Consistency needed
The Clean Air Coalition, a non-governmental organization opposing the award to Jancom of the $365-million build operate-transfer (BOT) contract to put up a garbage incinerator, has cited inconsistencies in how the Supreme Court treated the Jancom and Piatco cases.

It believes that just as it declared the Piatco contract concerning NAIA 3 as null and void, the High Tribunal should likewise deem the Jancom award as void ab initio or without force and effect from the beginning.

For over two years, the coalition has been trying to get the SC to nullify the Jancom incinerator contract for the following reasons: there are two Jancoms claiming the project, none of which have the financial capability to undertake the project; the contract was awarded through a managed bidding; it did not receive NEDA-ICC approval; and , there was no presidential approval.

Like PairCargo which is the predecessor of Piatco, Jancom had no financial capability. Like the 1997 Piatco concession agreement, the Jancom BOT contract had major deviations from the original project. But unlike the Piatco contract, the Jancom contract was declared to be valid.

What the coalition wants is consistency from the SC. The Piatco and Jancom contracts share the same flaws so there is no reason why the latter should be treated differently, the group said.
Learning and relearning
As if his experience in turning around Next Mobile (formerly Nextel Communications) wasn’t enough, company president Mel Velarde is now in the United States attending a management course for owners and CEOs at Harvard University. Probably, he is well aware of the various challenges still facing this trunk radio company that has reinvented itself to become very powerful force in mobile communications. Young as he is, Mel is more mature in many ways than many of his older colleagues. He is well aware that it is not wise to go up against giants Smart Communications and Globe Telecom. Rather, Next Mobile is creating a niche that will complement whatever services Smart and Globe are now offering.

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