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9-Misc: On the hunger strike against Bt corn in Philippines



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TITLE:  Hunger Strike Against Bt Corn in Philippines
SOURCE: PANNA, Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
DATE:   June 4, 2003

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Hunger Strike Against Bt Corn in Philippines

On May 21st in Manila, hunger strikers ended a month long fast protesting
the commercialization of genetically engineered Bacillus thuringiensis
(Bt) corn in the Philippines. "We have done everything that is humanly
possible to stop the poisoned seeds of genetically modified corn from
being planted in our farms," stated Roberto Verzola, one of the remaining
hunger strikers. "By this time, the seeds are being distributed to
farmers. Three months after they are planted, the plants will bloom.
There will be cross-pollination with the local corn variety which will
contaminate our fields with the toxic corn," he explained.

In December 2002, the Philippine Department of Agriculture approved the
planting and sale of YieldGard, Monsanto's Bt corn, in spite of risks of
genetic contamination within one of the world's most biodiverse plant
communities. Hunger strikers report that the agriculture department has a
contract with Monsanto to buy the genetically engineered corn seeds for
free distribution to farmers.

The strikers wanted the Philippine government to declare a moratorium on
genetically engineered corn until the safety, environmental, health and
economic concerns had been resolved. Philippine President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo and Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. declined to
meet with the strikers, who issued a sharply critical statement: "You
have failed us, Madame President. Once the contamination of our local
corn varieties by the Bt toxin gene spreads, your presidency will leave a
legacy of poisoned corn to our children, grandchildren and all subsequent
generations of Filipinos."

Lying on cots in a traffic circle in front of the Ministry of
Agriculture, the hunger strikers consumed only water and juice since
April 22. Four women and five men began the strike, but physical symptoms
had forced all but three to stop their fast. The strikers are affiliated
with the Network Opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms! (NO GMOs!)
and represent the Philippine Greens, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives
for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang
Magsasaka, (PAKISAMA) Ecological Society of the Philippines) and Earth First!

Bt corn contains a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
Another form of Bt is also used as an insecticide spray by both
conventional and organic farmers. Bt sprays degrade rapidly in the
environment; however, a genetically engineered plant can produce Bt toxin
in every cell. As a result, pests are continually exposed to low doses,
increasing the chances of developing resistance and reducing
effectiveness of Bt sprays. The safety of human consumption of plants
with Bt toxin is also controversial. Scientists around the world have
called for more studies on the potential human health impacts of Bt crops.

Mark Cervantes, one of the hunger strikers, urged, "We should not let
transnational corporations (TNCs) make the decision about what we should
eat; this decision is only ours to make." Philippine activists see the
issues of genetically engineered crops, biosafety and biopiracy in their
genetically diverse environment as shared by many countries of the global
South. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to corporations
seeking to sell patented crops or to find species to patent--both at a
cost to local communities.

Before the hunger strikers began their fast, the battle against Bt corn
in the Philippines had been underway in the fields, the courts and the
national Congress. In August 2001 farmers joined by SEARICE pulled up Bt
corn growing in a Monsanto field trial. Activists resorted to direct
action after Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred were sued for illegal field
tests of Bt corn in 1999 and 2001. In both cases the companies failed to
appear in court until the field trials were over, the crops harvested,
and the case was moot.

Several bills seeking to regulate genetically engineered crops were
submitted to Congress but have not made progress. "Since October 2001,
the bills have not moved an inch in Congress because Monsanto and AGILE
(a lobby group receiving U.S. aid funds) desperately blocked their
passage," complained Rafael Mariano of the KMP, the largest peasant/
farmers union in the Philippines. The resolutions seek to limit
introduction of GE crops and investigate corporate influence over the
government approval process for Bt corn. "Even the bill that requires
mandatory labeling of all GE crops and food products is being blocked by
corporate interest groups and AGILE," Mariano stated.

For information on the hunger strike: http://www.bwf.org.


Sources:
Hunger Strike Against GM Food Ends Today, Gulf News, Manila, May 21, 2003
Monsanto, Agile blocking Anti-Bt corn Bills, News Release, May 19, 2003
Hunger Strike Against GM Crops in the Philippines, NO GMOS! Press
Release, April 22, 2003
Hunger Strikers Meet Tiglao, More talks With Lorenzo Set, Press Release,
SEARICE, May 13, 2003
Biopiracy, GMOs and Resistance in the Philippines, SEARICE, http://
www.spectrezine.org/resist/Neth.htm.


Contacts:
Network Opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms! (NO GMOs!) and
Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE)
Units 208/331 Eagle Court Condominium, 26 Matalino Street, Diliman,
Quezon City, Philippines
phone (63-2) 922-6710, (63-2) 433-7182
fax (63-2) 922 6710
email searice@searice.org.ph
Web site http://www.searice.org.ph




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