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2-Plants: Update on Philippine GE crop struggle

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  DA turns down Greenpeace bid to ban Bt corn
SOURCE: The Philippine Star, by Rocel C. Felix
DATE:   May 7, 2003

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DA turns down Greenpeace bid to ban Bt corn

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will stand pat on its decision
allowing the commercialization of the genetically-modified Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt) corn, rejecting anew, calls for a moratorium on its

Agriculture Secretary Luis P. Lorenzo Jr. said there is no sufficient
scientific evidence that would warrant a moratorium on the
commercialization of Bt corn.

Non-govenrment organizations led by Greenpeace International are asking
the DA to reverse an earlier policy that permits the commercial
production of Bt corn, and in the process, revoke the license it issued
late last year to Monsanto Philippines Inc. (MPI), the first company that
began Bt corn production last January.

Bt corn is genetically engineered corn in which a synthetic version of a
gene from the soil bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is inserted so
that the plant produces its own Bt toxins to kill pests such as the corn
borer. Greenpeace claims the Bt toxin also harms beneficial inspect species.

"There is no new scientific evidence so far and that is one of the
requirements before we could consider a moratorium," said Lorenzo.

DA assistant secretary for policy and planning Segfredo R. Serrano added
that a moratorium will require another creation of a scientific and
technical review panel (STRP) which should come up with "overwhelming"
new evidence that will give the government no choice but to revoke MPI's

"The members of the STRP that approved Bt corn commercialization are
eminent scientists. Their assessments are trustworthy, and the results of
their study are public documents. You have to constitute another STRP to
hear this petition. It must be independent. They must present a contrary
opinion to overturn the previous decision," he said.

Serrano added the new STRP's findings will have to be re-evaluated. He
said the arguments of NGOs against Bt corn have all been addressed prior
to last year's decision to allow its commercialization.

NGOs led by Greenpeace International are staging a hunger strike at the
DA to force a moratorium on the production of Bt corn.

MPI applied for the commercialization of Bt corn with the BPI last Sept. 15.

Its application was approved last Dec. 3 by BPI Director Blo Umpar
Adiong. This is the first commercial planting in the Philippines of a
genetically modified crop and is seen as a step to achieve self-
sufficiency in corn production.

MPI's license is valid for five years, and is renewable for successive 5-
year periods if the applicant can prove that continued production of the
regulated product does not pose any significant risks to health and the

Also, the BPI can revoke MPI's license if it receives new information
that the product could be potentially damaging to health and the environment.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Aussie legislator seeks moratorium on Bt corn
SOURCE: Philippine Daily Inquirer, by Gerald G. Lacuarta
DATE:   May 5, 2003

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Aussie legislator seeks moratorium on Bt corn

AN AUSTRALIAN legislator has suggested a moratorium on the sale and
distribution of genetically engineered corn or Bt corn in the country, as
the hunger strike by anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) activists
at the Department of Agriculture entered its third week.

Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Greens party has written Agriculture
Secretary Luis Lorenzo expressing "grave concern" about the Philippine
government's approval of the sale of Monsanto's Yieldgard Bt Corn, a
genetically modified variety that produces its own pesticide against corn

Brown urged Lorenzo to place an immediate moratorium on the use and
distribution of GMO foods in the country.

Brown cited the experience of the Australian state of Tazmania, which
imposed a five-year moratorium on the introduction of all GMO foods due
to "impacts such genetically engineered crops would have on Tazmania's
reputation in the global export market."

The hunger strikers, led by Obet Versola of the Philippine Greens,
welcomed Brown's proposal.

Versola said such a moratorium could always be reversed, although the
hunger strikers are demanding the total ban of GMO crops in the country.

Versola and three other environmentalists vowed to continue their hunger
strike until Lorenzo reverses the government approval on the commercial
use of Bt corn in the country.

                                  PART III
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TITLE:  Strikers vs Bt corn fight for attention
SOURCE: Philippine Daily Inquirer, by Volt Contreras
DATE:   May 5, 2003

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Strikers vs Bt corn fight for attention

'Time bomb'

HOW to compete for the people's attention against the Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome and the US attack on Iraq?

Hunger strikers protesting the impending commercial sale of "Bt corn" or
genetically engineered corn are hoping that their fast can re-channel
public notice to what they call a "time bomb" waiting to explode in the
Philippine health, environment and agriculture scene.

"Nobody's paying attention anymore to the issue of GMOs [genetically
modified organisms], especially now with the SARS and the war,"
Philippine Greens' Roberto Verzola told the Inquirer on Saturday. "That's
why we have to do something extraordinary like this."

The hunger strikers set up camp starting on April 22 on the sidewalk
fronting the Department of Agriculture building on Elliptical Road,
Quezon City.

Verzola, Mark Cervantes, Arma Bertuso and Luisita Esmao, members of
different environmentalist groups, are subsisting on water and fruit
juice. Despite the fact that five of their colleagues dropped out after
reportedly collapsing last Thursday, the 11th day of the hunger strike,
the four intend to press on until the government gives in or their bodies
give up.

But Verzola, at 50 the most senior in the group, issued a statement
Saturday calling for a "second batch" of hunger strikers to take over
their campaign "if we all fall down."

He said he was getting weaker by the day, and complained of chest pain
and sore throat. From a pre-strike weight of 135 pounds, he's now down to
120, he said.

"I cannot walk too far or stand too long," said Verzola, an electrical
engineer by trade. "Dust, fumes, and noise from the nearby highway assail
our camp-out 24 hours a day. It is hot during the day and it's difficult
to sleep at night. I do not know how many more days I can last."

Verzola said he and his colleagues went on strike also out of a sense of
urgency: The commercial sale of Bt corn will supposedly start this month,
or five months after it received President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's approval.

"There's an almost invisible time bomb about to be planted in our farms
in the barrios this May," he said, referring to the controversial corn
variety that is capable of producing its own pesticide against corn borers.

Citing scientific studies, the anti-Bt corn movement mainly warns of the
possible health risks of introducing GMOs to the food chain and the
ecological disruption that can ensue if GMOs inadvertently cross-breed
with indigenous crop species.

The protest is particularly directed at the US biotechnology firm
Monsanto, which owns the patent to the corn and maintains field testing
sites in the provinces of Bukidnon, Isabela, Camarines Sur and South Cotabato.

                                  PART IV
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TITLE:  A case vs GM crops
SOURCE: The Philippine Star, by Antonio M. Claparols
DATE:   May 4, 2003

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A case vs GM crops

More than 578 scientists from all over the world have signed an open
letter urging President Arroyo to declare a moratorium on the release of
genetically modified (GM) crops for reasons of safety and other concerns.

The call is being supported by the Ecological Society of the Philippines
and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural
Resources (IUCN).

Many independent scientists along with the British Medical Association
now believe there is sufficient evidence to indicate that GM crops pose
serious risks to health and environment. A number of the most prominent
scientists have formed an Independent Science Panel on GM which is due to
present scientific evidence to the public while calling for a ban on GM
crops and endorsing organic sustainable agriculture.

The group is urging President Arroyo to reconsider the gover-ment's go-
signal for the commercial propagation of Monsanto's Bt corn which is a
harmful GM crop in many ways, as summarized in a recent report produced
by the Institute of Science in Society in London, UK which is headed by
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho.

Bt crops are genetically engineered to produce insecticidal proteins
derived from genes of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). While Bt
is a natural insecticide used safely and occasionally as a spray by
conventional organic farmers, genetically engineering Bt genes into
plants so that the toxins are expressed in relatively high levels in a
large proportion of the plants throughout most of their growing period is
another matter. Abundant evidence of harmful effects on the environment
has already emerged.

Bt crops impact negatively on non-target endangered species such as the
monarch butterfly, the black swallowtail and other lepidopteran species.
Beneficial species such as lacewings that prey on cornborer were also
harmed when fed on an artificial diet containing Bt toxin or on corn
borers or other lepidopteran larvae that had fed on Bt corn.

Research conducted in China show that while Bt cotton is effective in
controlling the primary pest cotton when first planted, there are adverse
impacts on parasitic natural enemies. Furthermore, populations of
secondary pests increased in Bt cotton fields after the target (bollworm)
had been controlled, some of which then replaced bollworm as primary
pests and damaged cotton growth.

Bt toxin is released in root exudates from Bt corn. It accumulates and
persists in soil and retains insecticidal, immunological and other
biological activities, with potentially large impacts on soil ecology and

The efficacy of Bt crops in pest control is compromised when pests evolve
resistance to Bt toxins. Such resistance has already become a big problem
in the United States and management strategies have had to be introduced
several years ago, based on planting "refugia" of non-Bt crops and
developing Bt crops that express high doses of the toxin. Recent research
indicates that resistant strains are even able to obtain additional
nutritional value from the toxin, thus making them even more serious
pests than before.

Bt genes could spread from Bt crops to create weeds. Hybrids of
cultivated Bt sunflowers and wild sunflowers were found to have 50
percent more seeds than control hybrids without the Bt genes, and were
physically fitter, when deprived of water and nutrients. Crosses between
GM canola containing the Bt gene and related weed, birdseed rape,
produced hybrids that are just as toxic. The transfer of Bt genes,
conferring insect resistance, could give the hybrids an edge in the wild,
with the potential of creating superweeds.

Evidence is also accumulating that many of the Bt toxins are harmful to
health. While Bt toxins are stored as inactive crystals (Cry) in the
bacterial spores and must be activated in the insect gut, Bt toxins in GM
plants are usually of the activated form. Due to different gut, Bt toxins
in GM plansts are usually of the activated form. Dut to different gut pH
and digestion of the protoxin, humans are not exposed to the activated
form of the toxin in Bt crops.

Bt toxins may be actual and potential allergens for human beings. Some
field workers are exposed to Bt spray experienced allergic skin
sensitization and induction of lgE and lgG anti-bodies to the spray. A
team of scientists have cautioned against releasing Cry-containing plants
and plant products for human use. These scientists demonstra-ted that
recombinant Cry1Ac protoxin from Bt is a potent sys-temic and mucosal
immunogen, as potent as cholera toxin.

A Bt strain that caused severe human necrosis (tissue death) killed mice
within eight hours from clinical toxic-shock syndrome. Both Bt protein
and Bt potato harmed mice in feeding experiments, damaging their ileum
(part of the small intestine). Both the groups of mice fed Bt potatoes of
potatoes piked with Bt toxin revealed common features such as the
abnormal appearance of mitochondria, with signs of degeneration and
disrupted short microvilli (microscopic projections on the cell surface)
at the surface lining gut.

Because Bt and Bacillus anthracis (anthrax species used in biological
weapons) are closely related to each other and to a third bacterium,
Bacillus cereus, a common soil bacterium and cause of food poisoning,
they readilly exchange plasmids (circular DNA molecules containing
genetic origins of replication that allow replication independent of
chromosome) carrying toxin genes. If B anthracis picked up Bt genes from
Bt crops, new strains of B anthracis with unpredictable properties could

Finally, there is no evidence that Bt corn reduces insecticide use, or
that it yields economic advantage to farmers. A farm-level economic
analysis of Bt corn demonstrated less net profit, lower corn prices and
lost corn exports. According to this analysis, from 1996-2001, American
farmers paid at least $659 million in price premiums to plant Bt corn,
while boosting their harvest by only 276 million bushels worth $567
million in economic gain.

In the light of all available evidence against GM crops in general and Bt
corn in particular, the group is urging President Arroyo to ban the
commercial release of Bt corn in the Philippines.

                                  PART V
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TITLE:  Farmers support GMA on biotech
SOURCE: The Philippine Star
DATE:   Apr 30, 2003

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Farmers support GMA on biotech

Influential members of the Philippine agricultural sector today issued a
manifesto of support on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's approval to
adopt modern biotechnology as an anchor of the government's food security

In a biotech forum held today at the Department of Agriculture, the group
also expressed support on Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo, Jr.'s call
enjoining the local agricultural community "to participate in democratic
discussion on GMOs, particularly, Bt corn".

Among those who signed the manifesto of support signaling the
government's stand on the commercialization of biotechnology-processed
crops are Mr. Felix Cordero and Mr. Rod Bioco representing the Nursery
Farmers Irrigators Association, Matatag Farmers Irrigators Association
and San Isidro Integrated Agro-Industrial Multipurpose Cooperative
(SINAG-MPC), and Philippine Maize Federation.

Earlier, two of the biggest agricultural groups in Mindanao, the
Agricultural and Fisheries Council of General Santos City (AFC) and the
Provincial Farmers Action Council in South Cotabato (PFAC), represented
by Mr. Edwin Paraluman also expressed their support.

Bioco told the President that GMOs, particularly corn and soybean, have
been declared safe by international agencies such as the Food and
Agriculture Organization, the European Commission, the Third World
Academy of Sciences and the National Academies of Science of several

He added that "all commercially released plants and plant products have
undergone and passed rigid food and safety tests, and are as safe as any
conventionally bred crop and pose no additional threat to humans and the

Bioco also said ''the only way we can benefit from science is by
welcoming with enlightened courage the opportunities that we find at
every new frontier of knowledge".

"Agricultural biotechnology is one tool that holds great promise for
alleviating hunger and poverty", he added.

Bioco also blasted an apparent well-funded campaign launched by foreign
interest groups "to create a scare campaign against genetically modified
organisms (GMOs).

He warned that this move is "meant to sow fear among the public".

The Department of Agriculture has earlier approved the commercial release
for propagation of Bt corn-MON810 in December 2002.

These biotechnology-processed corn plants produce proteins that kill the
Asiatic corn borer, a major insect pest of corn. These are planted in
Ilocos, Pangasinan, Isabela and Camarines Sur.

Expected harvest date is April-May of this year.

Recent results show farmers who have planted the Bt corn have reported
the effective response of the plants in controlling the corn borers.

Other Asian countries, including China, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia have
taken steps ahead of the Philippines in the application of biotechnology
to their respective agricultural sectors.