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3-Food: Philippine govt in dilemna over GM foods

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

TITLE:  Philippine govt in dilemna over GM foods
SOURCE: The Taipei Times, Taiwan, posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   17 Feb 2006

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Philippine govt in dilemna over GM foods

The government has come under attack from health and enviornmental
groups for its aggressive promotion of genetically modified crops to
boost food production

With one in three Filipinos subsisting on nutrient-deficient but cheap
instant noodles, the Philippines is pinning its hopes on "Frankenstein
food" to feed its impoverished millions despite environmental and health

Agriculture Secretary Domingo Panganiban said the government has been
aggressively promoting genetically modified [GM] crops for widespread
cultivation in order to boost food production.

"When your land area [for agriculture production] is getting smaller and
your population is growing, then we have to resort to technologies ...
to produce double than what was being produced in a given land," he said.

Panganiban said the Philippines is among the 12 countries in the world
where over 85 percent of land is already under the most "intense use for
agriculture, housing and industry."

The agriculture department was encouraged by the response of Filipino
farmers in cultivating Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, the first GM
crop introduced in the country five years ago.

Panganiban said the number of farmers growing the genetically modified
Bt corn has increased tremendously, with the area of production now at
25,000 hectares, out of at least 250,000 hectares devoted to the crop.

"From the ordinary hybrid to Bt, there was a quantum leap in terms of
adoption, especially for corn-growing areas in the southern region of
Mindanao," he told a recent meeting of regional biotechnology experts in

"Farmers who adopted it at the initial phase have earned more than those
who still cling to the old varieties," he added.

But the Bt corn production in the Philippines has also been met with
opposition from some farmer and environmental groups, such as Greenpeace.

Greenpeace has warned Filipinos that the so-called "Frankenfood" -- or
products whose inherent qualities have been artificially manipulated in
a bid to produce goods with improved genetic traits -- could be harmful.

"Because the technology is very new and imprecise, the potential ill
effects on public health and on the environment are still widely
unknown," it said. "The truth is no one knows for sure how these new
manmade creations will affect life on planet Earth."

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago cautioned the government against
embracing biotechnology as the panacea to poverty, which plagues one-
third of the country's more than 85 million people.

Santiago said GM crops might pose risks to human health, citing a
genetically modified corn, called Starlink, that was declared by the US
Environmental Protection Agency as unfit for human consumption because
it reportedly aggravates allergies.

"GMOs [genetically modified organisms] can have devastating effects on
indigenous and local communities," she said. "They might also create
dependence on multinational corporations."

But World Bank economist Kym Anderson said studies conducted by
scientists and experts around the globe have shown that GMOs under
current cultivation do not pose a hazard to human health or to the

Anderson said GM crops released for commercial production were so far
environment-friendly since these are pest-resistant and no longer
dependent on pesticides.

"Some of the best scientific reports that have looked into the issue
[biotechnology] from Europe, including from academies of sciences, all
of them have not been able to find significant environmental or food
safety concerns with the products of this technology," he said.

Anderson noted that a lot of concerns and issues raised against
biotechnology were due to misunderstanding and ignorance.

"I think anti-GM0 groups often, when you force them to the issue, they
are not so much anti-GMOs. They are anti other issues, like
globalization," he said.

Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition
of Agri-Biotech applications, said that last year -- the 10th year
anniversary of commercialization of GMOs -- a total of 90 million
hectares of land worldwide were allocated to the so-called Frankenstein crops.

He added that 1.8 million farmers from 21 countries, including France,
Portugal and Czech Republic, have already shifted to cultivating GMOs.

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, who directly oversees the
Philippines' biotechnology program, said a regulatory system to monitor
GMOs was in place in the country.

"We are the first country in the region to establish [a regulatory
system]," he said. "The process is very transparent. It involves purely
scientific objective methods. There are independent scientists to do the
assessment of risks."

Panganiban said that with the success of the Bt corn, the government was
looking forward to the introduction of genetically modified rice within
the next two years as well as genetically modified cotton, vegetables
and fruits.

"There are now over 85 million Filipinos," he said. "By the end of this
year 2 million more will have been born. And because of dwindling
farmlands, a vast number of our farmers are counted among the poorest in
the Asia-Pacific region."

"Biotechnology is the rightful answer to that," Panganiban added.


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