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2-Plants: No freeze on Bt corn commercialization on The Philippines

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TITLE:  No freeze on Bt corn commercialization
SOURCE: Manila Bulletin, The Philippines, by Melody M. Aguiba
DATE:   May 15, 2003

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No freeze on Bt corn commercialization

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will not issue a moratorium on the
commercialization of genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis
(Bt) corn as this will obliterate established law on GM crops and revert
the Philippines back to a "GMblind" status despite having been importing
GM goods since the 1990s.

In a letter to Roberto Verzola, Philippine Greens officer, Agriculture
Secretary Luis P. Lorenzo Jr. said that a review made by the Policy,
Planning, Research, and Regulation (PPRR) division of DA indicated that
DA cannot order a stop on GM commercialization for lack of compelling

"Administrative Order No. 8 does not provide for a moratorium, what you
are ... requesting me is to execute a unilateral action overriding more
than two years of extensive national consultations... (and) to render a
political action that will reverse more than five years of scientific
studies. .. Unless new scientific evidence is received through correct
and due process I consider myself estopped from acting on your request,"
Lorenzo said.

DA's PPRR indicated in a report that a moratorium will violate Filipino
farmers' own right to livelihood "considering that Bt corn from the USA
and South Africa has been freely entering the country since 1997."

PPRR said Bt corn's commercialization followed a 90-day timeline of AO 8
and all 32 members of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP)
unanimously recommended it is "safe and as nutritious and does not pose
undue hazard more than conventional corn."

PPRR said that there is no possibility that Bt corn will result in new
and "more virulent strains of infections agents as there is no natural
law that will enable Bt corn to produce new infectious agents... as
millions of hectares planted on Bt corn does not indicate that such could

PPRR said that the STRP experimentation's showed that Bt corn cannot be
an allergen as "this protein is easily digestible in human stomach (and)
it is in very low quantity compared with known food allergens and its
structure is unlike known allergens."

"After more than a decade of study to find out if genetic engineering
increases the chances of horizontal gene transfer, no proof has been
obtained. Bt protein is not novel in the human diet. Some organically-
grown salad vegetables from Baguio are sprayed with Bt and ingested by
people. Children playing with our soils also ingest Bt and its proteins,"
the PPRR said.

While cause-oriented groups (COGs) fear the Bt toxin may contaminate the
local soil, the PPRR said that "there are about 200 Bt proteins or
protoxins with different properties and Bt is present in Philippine soils
for centuries and is part of its natural ecology."

If COGs fear farmers can be sued for stealing Bt corn if Bt corn from
another farm cross-pollinates with their non-BT varieties, the PPRR said
that the "Philippines has no patent laws on plant varieties" which
shields them from being sued.

Contrary to cause-oriented groups' claim that GM planting has been
declining due to alleged harm to health and the environment, PPRR said
that total GM crop area in the world even increased to 58.7 million
hectares, or growing at 10 percent yearly for the last six years.

The PPRR said that AO 8 abides by international risk assessment
guidelines of GM crops as recommended by the World Health Organization/
Food and Agriculture Organization.