Biotech war

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2014 - 12:00am

Not too many people may have noticed that the annual celebration of “National Biotechnology Week” ended yesterday. This is supposedly the ninth year that this celebration is observed in the Philippines every last week of November since officially set by Presidential Proclamation No. 1414 issued in 2005.

We presume, just like other government-mandated celebrations, the public will mark “National Biotechnology Week” with the usual symposia, talk-shop forum, and exhibits. This year’s celebration, however, is more significant than the past. Thanks to recent developments related to the country’s efforts to use biotechnology in its bid to achieve food security and sufficiency, its significance could no longer be ignored.

If there is one thing this government appears to have been serious about is the use of modern agriculture biotechnology in the food production sector. Almost ten years ago, the government took a major step in its agriculture policy-making and adopted modern agricultural biotechnology as one of the important pillars of the national food production effort.

Merle Palacpac of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry last week announced the country’s agricultural biotech researchers and scientists are already deep into Research and Development (R&D) efforts that tap biotech to come up with disease resistant, and high yielding varieties of rice, corn, and eggplant.

Biotech R&D, she cited, was already ongoing to fund ways to come up with a variety of papaya that has a longer ripening period, to reduce the spoilage and wastage of papaya shipments of the country’s papaya farmers either for export, or just to sell to the local market. 

If memory serves us right, it was also ten years ago when government approved the commercialization of the first crop variety developed through modern biotechnology. This is the so-called Bt Corn, a crop type that is naturally resistant to the traditional pests that have attacked and damaged our corn crops for ages.

That decision to approve the commercialization of Bt corn has proven to be one giant step in the right direction. Today, more than 800,000 hectares of corn farms in the country is planted to that variety.

This means two things. First, our corn farmers who opted to shift from the traditional varieties to the biotech corn type have been harvesting more. Second, they have been making more money both from revenues from increased harvest and from savings made due to the elimination of the use of chemical pesticide.

Agriculture experts also say that the country’s gains in corn production has also led to sufficiency in corn feed for the local poultry and livestock industry. This puts the Philippines in a good position to start exporting corn feeds to other countries.

This year’s Biotechnology Week is likewise significant because it takes place at a time when the government’s biotechnology policy comes under intense assault from one of the world’s richest and most powerful pressure groups, Greenpeace.

The Amsterdam-based group has thrown its political and financial arsenal behind a vicious campaign to stop our government from giving Filipino farmers access to the benefits of agriculture biotechnology.

In the past, Greenpeace’s local agents orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to scare our farmers and prevent them from adopting biotech corn. Some of its agents have also been accused of leading destructive raids on government farms where biotech crops are being showcased.

Its latest move was to get an order from the Court of Appeals stopping the efforts of our scientists from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) from introducing a biotech eggplant variety to our farmers.

Greenpeace’s unrelenting war against the country’s bid to tap the benefits of agriculture biotechnology has turned for the worse. This is no longer just a battle between biotechnology and Greenpeace’s insistence that our farmers remain in bondage to traditional crop varieties that cannot survive without chemical pesticides.

Greenpeace’s campaign is also apparently designed to torpedo the government’s bid to achieve supply sufficiency for our local livestock and poultry industry and to become a corn feed exporting country.

It is clear that Greenpeace’s war is not just against modernizing our agriculture and food production sector. It is against our economy as a whole. Worse, it is working against the interest of Filipino farmers who are being given the best means to get the most harvest from their products.

The good news is that the Filipino science community led UPLB researchers are holding their ground against Greenpeace in the legal aspect of the biotech war. They have elevated before the Supreme Court (SC) to stop an order which the powerful European group earlier secured from the CA.

The other good news is that several Filipino farmers have joined our scientists in the legal fight. The SC has allowed them to present their position in the appeal filed by our scientists. This is an important development. After all, it is the future of us Filipinos which is at stake here. 

Aside from efforts to boost the country’s agricultural productivity through biotech, local scientists and researchers underscored the need to also raise awareness on the benefits of biotech R&D to help the Philippines come up with new drugs, diagnostic tools, and vaccines.

The country’s top biotech experts in the fields of health sciences and agriculture gathered in a “Biotechnology 101 for Consumers” forum held last week at the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) central office in UP Diliman, Quezon City. The forum ended with a renewed call for the promotion of biotechnology research and development in human health sciences, and in agriculture.

Sadly, the cutting edge biotech R&D activities are hindered by misconceptions and misinformation foisted on biotech products.

They especially zero in on genetically modified (GMO) crops. GMO crops are being demonized by such foreign groups with questionable interests that try to impose their own agenda on how our country should achieve food security. This is one biotech war that we must not lose to such shadowy do-good groups.


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