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SCIENCE & POLICY: Philippine Cabinet officials back biotech use to boost food production



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  ATIENZA, ALABASTRO BACK BIOTECH USE TO BOOST FOOD PRODUCTION

SOURCE: Business Mirror, Philippines

AUTHOR: Jonathan Mayuga

URL:    http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2427:atienza-alabastro-back-biotech-use-to-boost-food-production&catid=26:nation&Itemid=63

DATE:   24.11.2008

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ATIENZA, ALABASTRO BACK BIOTECH USE TO BOOST FOOD PRODUCTION

DOST Secretary Estrella Alabastro and DENR Secretary Lito Atienza lead the unveiling of the Biotechnology Logo during the 2008 National Biotechnology Week Opening at the Institute for Small-Scale Industries at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

TWO Cabinet officials on Monday stressed the need to harness biotechnology for the country to boost food production, develop cheaper but effective medicines, and upgrade the production of commodities using higher-yielding crops with higher nutritional content.

At the opening of the National Biotechnology Week celebration at the Institute of Small-Scale Industry (ISSI) at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza said the government is confident that ?through biotechnology, we can get better results to our ceaseless pursuit on prosperity and development.?

?If we do not use biotechnology for our benefit, we may just be left out by other governments and other societies that would harness it for their own good,? he told a group of scientists and biotechnology advocates.

On the other hand, Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro underscored the need to learn from the experiences of researchers and open channels of communication about new issues on biotechnology and their implications.

?If we could wave a flag for biotechnology, it would have three colors,? she said. ?Red for medical, green for agricultural and white for industrial applications.?

More colors may be added over time as the environment, marine and other biotechnology applications are included, she added.

Atienza said that while the government is promoting biotechnology, the environment should be the key target in biotechnological development by harnessing environment preservation and protection.

Environmentalists constantly question the safety of the use of genetically enhanced crops to the environment.

Atienza said he is confident of the ?immeasurable benefits? of using biotechnology in protecting the environment and in addressing the problems of food insufficiency.

Proclamation 1414, signed by President Arroyo last year, declared the last week of November as National Biotechnology Week in a bid to sustain greater awareness, education and understanding of biotechnology, including its many applications.

The government is also using the weeklong celebration as an opportunity to increase awareness on the regulation of the new technology.

Biotechnology production developed by local scientists already include biofertilizers, ethanol-production-inducing bacteria and micronutrient-enhancement products. As early as 1998, high-level biotechnology research started and developed such transgenic papaya and resistant to bunchy top virus and ringspot virus, delayed ripening of papaya and mango, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, marker-assisted breeding in cococunut and coconut with high lauric acid content.

Alabasto said that multi-color description of biotechnology stems from its being a multi-disciplinary science, cutting across various fields such as health and medicine, agricuolture, marine and industry and environment.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  DA OFFICIAL SAYS BIOTECHNOLOGY KEY TO FOOD SECURITY

SOURCE: Philippine Information Agency, Philippines

AUTHOR: Biolife News Service, Philippines

URL:    http://www.pia.gov.ph/default.asp?m=12&fi=p081121.htm&no=16&r=&y=&mo=

DATE:   21.11.2008

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DA OFFICIAL SAYS BIOTECHNOLOGY KEY TO FOOD SECURITY

Manila (21 November) -- In the Philippines, 40 percent of our people have experienced the pangs of hunger and more are about to suffer the same unless the government, the private sector, the religious, professionals, the academic community and workers and peasants do something about it.

Higher food prices that have caused so much pain to many nations in the last two years, abetted no doubt by expensive oil, forces the nation to work double-time to increase food production.

Unwieldy population growth and diminishing agricultural lands also conspired to create a regime of high food prices, which are the bane of any concerted effort to mitigate hunger worldwide.

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano, who also chairs the Department of Agriculture-Biotech Program Steering Committee, believes that modern farm technologies, particularly biotechnology, are the key to solving the country?s food security program.

?We are utilizing biotechnology safely and responsibly to increase the supply and stability as well as improve the nutritional quality of food in the market,? says Serrano.

There are new biotechnologically enhanced rice varieties that can provide the country with adequate supply of the staple.

Not only that, he adds, improved wagwag has been commercialized to make it [non-GE] tungro-resistant, saline-tolerant and capable of producing yields higher than 5 tons per hectare.

Moreover, the DA official claims, Tubigan 7 (NSIC Rc142) and Tubigan 11 (NSIC Rc154), two [non-GE] strains developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) are resistant to bacterial leaf blight. This pest is the bane of Filipino farmers during the wet season.

Tubigan 7 yields 7.4 tons per hectare, nearly double the current national yield. Research and development on drought-tolerant, saline-tolerant, and flood-tolerant rice varieties is also being done as strategic responses to the country?s erratic climatic conditions.

Government scientists are also developing Golden Rice to help curb Vitamin A deficiency among children and pregnant women, arming them with nutrients that battle blindness. The genes of the Golden Rice are being incorporated into local varieties that are resistant to tungro and bacterial blight.

?In attaining food sufficiency, we do have high hopes in biotechnology to make our food production system efficient,? Serrano reveals.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:  IMPORT CUTS SEEN AS ?BT? COTTON TRIAL STARTS

SOURCE: Business Mirror, Philippines

AUTHOR: Jennifer A. Ng

URL:    http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2431:import-cuts-seen-as-bt-cotton-trial-starts&catid=23:topnews&Itemid=58

DATE:   24.11.2008

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IMPORT CUTS SEEN AS ?BT? COTTON TRIAL STARTS

THE government will start conducting greenhouse trials on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in Philippine fields in January 2009 after the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) recently issued a permit to import the seeds from India.

?We?re looking at three sites, possibly in Ilocos and Mindanao, where we can conduct the testing of Bt cotton seeds,? said Dr. Alicia Ilaga, head of the Department of Agriculture?s (DA) Biotechnology Program Office, at the sidelines of the opening ceremonies of the National Biotechnology Week at the University of the Philippines on Monday.

In a separate interview, BPI Director Joel Rudinas confirmed that the permit to import the seeds from India was issued two weeks ago. The permit to import was requested by the Cotton Development Administration (CDA).

Ilaga noted the greenhouse trial of Bt cotton will last anywhere from six months to one year. Once the propagation of Bt cotton is found to be viable in the Philippines, the commercial propagation of the crop could be undertaken by 2010.

She revealed the government is looking at a joint venture with the Chinese government to commercially propagate Bt cotton in the Philippines.

?Once the testing is successful, the Philippine government will hold discussions with China to put up a joint- venture firm that will undertake the commercial propagation of Bt cotton,? said Ilaga.

Earlier, CDA had planned to use Bt cotton seeds from China developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. (CAS) But because of phytosanitary and quarantine issues, the Philippine government decided to just source the seeds from India, which was also developed by the CAS.

CDA, an attached agency of the DA, has been awaiting the arrival of Bt cotton seeds from China since it was granted by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines the permit to use the technology in November 2006.

Earlier, Ilaga noted that the Philippines imported as much as $85 million worth of cotton at one time. In terms of volume, Ilaga noted that the average annual cotton importation of the Philippines is at 300,000 metric tons. The imported cotton is mainly used by textile manufacturers.

?The ultimate goal is to let the production of our local farmers displace the imports,? she said.

Apart from displacing the imports, the Philippines hopes to replicate the success of India, not just in the commercial propagation of Bt cotton, but also in the export of the genetically modified product.



                                  PART 4

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TITLE:  SUPPORT FOR BIOTECH STRONGEST IN RP - SURVEY

SOURCE: The Philippines Star, Philippines

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?ArticleId=419696&publicationSubCategoryId=77

DATE:   30.11.2008

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SUPPORT FOR BIOTECH STRONGEST IN RP - SURVEY

Philippine consumers are aware of biotechnology benefits and do not have safety concerns with GMO, a recent survey by the Asian Food Information Centre (www.afic.org) shows.

The AFIC survey covered five Asian countries, namely China, India, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. It aimed to provide insights on how consumers in Asia perceive the use of biotechnology to produce foods and how likely it is consumers are accepting the various benefits biotechnology derived foods may bring.

The survey findings for the Philippines indicate that consumers are knowledgeable and positive about food biotechnology. Consumers largely believe that biotechnology crops have the potential to deliver high quality, nutritional foods. A large majority of Philippine consumers also indicated that they accept biotechnology as a way to increase the production of food staples and to supply sustainable food. Compared to the other countries surveyed, support for biotechnology appears stronger in the Philippines.

Dr. George Fuller, executive director of AFIC, says: ?Acceptance from Philippine consumers of crop biotechnology to produce nutritionally enhanced foods is an important outcome of this research. For instance, Golden Rice (enhanced in B-carotene to prevent vitamin A deficiency) is close to commercialization in the Philippines and the AFIC research shows that consumers in the country will accept this nutritionally superior rice.?

?The survey also indicates that food security is on the consumers? mind and consumers support biotechnology?s potential for improving agricultural productivity?, added Dr. Fuller.

Key findings from the different areas included in the survey:

Plant biotechnology and food

Awareness about plant biotechnology is high in the Philippines and positively correlates with favorability and acceptance of biotechnology to produce foods.

Almost one in three Philippine consumers report that they are very knowledgeable about biotechnology and in total two thirds say they have at least some knowledge.

The majority of consumers (59 percent) have favorable impressions of plant biotechnology while 19 percent are neutral. A large majority (73 percent) of Philippine consumers believes that they would personally benefit from food biotechnology in the next five years. Key expected benefits are improved food quality and making food more affordable.

A vast majority of the surveyed consumers would be ready to purchase foods produced through biotechnology for specific benefits. More than 90 percent of the consumers would be likely to buy cheaper rice or rice with an increased nutritional value (like a higher vitamin A content) produced through biotechnology. Consumers expressed an equally high (greater than 90 percent) likelihood of buying biotechnology-derived foods such as cooking oil with reduced levels of saturated or trans fats or fresher and better tasting tomatoes.

Plant biotechnology and sustainability

Consumers in the Philippines are also very positive towards plant biotechnology if the technology is related to sustainable food production.

Although most of the consumers are not familiar with the concept of sustainable food production, once the concept is explained, 84 percent of the respondents believed sustainable food production is important. When asked to rank seven factors related to sustainable food production, Philippine consumers picked ?increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger? as the most important factor, and ?increasing the productivity in the field and thus reducing production cost, thereby reducing the cost of food? second.

Ninety-two percent of those surveyed said they support food production using plant biotechnology if the technology delivers sustainable benefits.

Confidence in safety of food supply

The survey was conducted in July and August of 2008 and 71 percent of the respondents indicated to be neutral to confident with the food safety level in the country. When asked to rank specific food safety concerns, Philippine consumers indicated a rather high level of concern for many of the issues, with food poisoning, pesticides residue, and improper handling of food topping the list. Food biotechnology is much less of a concern compared to other food safety issues with none of the respondents citing this as a top of mind concern.

Food labeling

Almost three out of four respondents said they read food labels regularly. The kind of information that Philippine consumers normally look for on food labels include expiry date (most important information for 59 percent of the consumers), vitamin content (mentioned by 13 percent of the consumers as the most important info) and food additives (seven percent).

A majority of consumers (74 percent) state that there is no information they would like to see added to food labels. Those who are not satisfied with the current information on food labels said they would like to have additional information about the content (presence of vitamins, minerals and other basic ingredients) and expiration/production dates.

GM labeling is not a spontaneous labeling demand, none of the respondents suggested presence of GM ingredients as an additional item to be included on food labels.

Compared to the other surveyed countries, consumers in the Philippines appear to be most knowledgeable about food biotechnology and the increased awareness positively correlates with acceptance.

The survey also shows that crops produced through biotechnology do not generate a high level of concern. In addition, although most Asian consumers are not familiar with the concept of ?sustainable food production,? once the concept is explained, a majority believe sustainable food production is important and accept plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to a more sustainable way of producing foods. Asian consumers are also ready to accept nutritional benefits from biotechnology-derived foods. However, specific benefits are linked to the dietary habits in each country. Consumers from the food producing countries, China, India and the Philippines, tend to be more positive about food biotechnology and the benefits it can bring compared to consumers from Korea and Japan, where local agricultural production is less important.

Methodology

AFIC commissioned The Nielsen Company Research to conduct a quantitative assessment of adult consumer attitudes toward food biotechnology from July 15 to Aug. 15, 2008. The research was conducted via an on-line survey of 1007 adults, aged 18 to 64 years, and living in five major cities in five different countries. The number of respondents for each city was: Beijing - 200; New Delhi - 204; Manila - 200; Seoul - 202 and Tokyo - 201.

Quotas were set to best reflect the demographic population in the cities.

About Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) Singapore registered not-for-profit organization, its mission is to effectively communicate science-base information on food safety, nutrition and health information to media, regulators, food/health professionals, and consumers in the Asia region.

For more information, please contact infor@afic.org or visit the Asian Food Information Centre website www.afic.org


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