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2-Plants: Philippine GE rice available in 2005

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetically Modified rice available in 2005
SOURCE: Business World, Philippines, by Carmelito Q. Francisco
        sent by
DATE:   Feb 21, 2003

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Genetically Modified rice available in 2005

DAVAO CITY - A genetically modified rice variety that will be resistant
to bacterial blithe will be available for commercial application in the
year 2005.

Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) chief
science research specialist, said the first cropping season of the rice
variety, whose mother is the high-yielding IR-72 variety, showed a high
resistance to bacterial blithe.

"We are assuming that if there is an epidemic of bacterial blithe (in the
farms where the tests were done), the rice variety is very strong," she said.

She added her group would soon start the second season for the variety in
the Munoz, Nueva Ecija farm of Philrice and eventually conduct the multi-
field testing in areas where races of bacterial blithe are present.

Philrice will conduct two seasons of multi-locational testing and
eventually apply for commercialization of the variety. "Philrice plans to
sell this variety directly to the seed growers," Ms. Aldemita said.

The Philippines has been dubbed as the capital of bacterial blithe due to
the presence of nine races of the bacteria.

To fund the project, Ms. Aldemita tapped the help of the Rockefeller
Foundation, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asian Rice
Biotechnology Network. During the first season, she said the leaves of
the rice variety were cut to allow the bacteria to get into its body to
find out whether it could resist the bacteria, and the agronomic
characterization, including the yield.

Bacterial blithe eats the leaves of the plant, and eventually leads to
the plant's demise. In an epidemic, about 70% of the yield is lost to the

In making IR-72 variety resistant to bacterial blithe, Ms. Aldemita
inserted Xa21 gene, taken from IR-21, into the plant. IR-72 was first
grown during the administration of then President Ferdinand Marcos, who
implemented the so-called Green Revolution in the 1970s.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, Jr. said the Philippines will
eventually become rice-exporting if farmers will start planting high-
yielding varieties.

Meanwhile, the National Government will implement safeguards in the
commercialization of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

Ms. Aldemita said the government will monitor the adaptability of Bt corn
to corn borers. The Bt corn, based on research, is resistant to corn borers.

"The BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry) monitoring team will look at the
propagation of the corn borers in areas near the Bt corn farms so that
its resistance to these insects will not immediately be altered," she
said, noting the government granted only seven years for United States-
based seed firm Monsanto to commercialize Bt corn.

"At the end of the period, (Monsanto) will present data (that will show
the behavior of Bt corn to corn borers and other target plant diseases),"
she said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) can also immediately stop the
commercialization of the breed once it finds out Bt corn is harmful to
environment and to the consumers.

Science and Technology Secretary Estrella Alabastro said the government,
through the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines, has
monitored the rigorous testing that Monsanto undertook before it applied
for the commercialization of the genetically modified corn.

She said the testing so far proved Bt corn is a safe commodity, so it is
up to the DA to monitor its commercialization to maintain the quality.

The scientific and technical review panel approved Bt corn
commercialization last Dec. 3.

Nongovernmental organizations, including international conservation group
Greenpeace, have been blocking the commercialization of the corn variety
due to its alleged harmful effects to the environment and consumers.

Greenpeace even criticized Mr. Lorenzo, who claimed the DA approval on
the commercialization of the corn variety has yet to be released.

"The secrecy surrounding the decision shows the same lack of transparency
and accountability that already characterized the conduction of Bt corn
field trials in the past three years," Greenpeace said in article
published last December.

In approving Bt corn's commercialization, Greenpeace said the Philippines
"deliberately ignored the extensive body of scientific research that
indicates harmful ecological effects of Bt crops."

In the US, it added, there has been a debate whether Bt corn also
influenced nontarget organisms like butterflies.

It also cited the 1999 study conducted by scientists of Cornell
University which pointed out that Bt toxin stays in the soil for 234 days
after the corn was harvested.