By Aerol B. Patena
MANILA, March 9 (PNA) — The Philippines is now the 12th leading producer of biotech crops in the world as 397,500 farmers cultivated a total of 800,000 hectares for genetically modified (GM) corn, according to a study conducted by the International Science for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2013.
The research also showed that the income of farmers from GM corn has reached USD 378 million from 2003 to 2012. GM corn was commercialized in the country in 2003.
“The corn production exceeded our expectations for the year,” Dr. Segfredo Serrano, Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy Planning, Research and Development, said in a press conference held at the Dusit Hotel in Makati City.
He further stated that the country must adapt biotechnology as this would ensure food security and boost the competitiveness of the agriculture sector.
The ISAAA, in its report, expressed its optimism for the future of biotech crops in the country.
“Future prospects look encouraging, with “homegrown” biotech products likely to be commercialized in the next 2 years including BT eggplant in 2014-15 and with a reasonable possibility that the Philippines might also be the first country to commercialize Golden Rice around 2016,” according to the organization.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) director Gil Saguiguit, Jr. reiterated the research institute’s commitment to promote GM crops in Southeast Asia despite claims by anti-GM groups that these are dangerous to the health and environment.
“We will continue our efforts to promote biotechnology especially in the developing countries of Southeast Asia which our Center is mandated to serve. This effort aligns with SEARCA’s 10th Five Year Plan which seeks to promote inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development, with the end goal of addressing food security and poverty in Southeast Asia,” Saguiguit said.
On the other hand, Dr. Randy Hautea, Global Coordinator and Director of the Southeast Asia Center of ISAAA, assured the public that risk assessment are regularly conducted for GM crops to determine its safety.
“GM crops are assessed based on a counterpart standard for conventional crops to ascertain that it is reasonably safe,” Dr. Hautea said in an interview with the Philippines News Agency.
For instance, GM corn is compared with the qualities of a regular corn to verify that it is safe for human consumption.
“We cannot state that corn is absolutely safe to health and environment because we will be basing it on unknown safety regulations. However, we are certain that GM corn in the country is reasonably safe,” Hautea further explained.
“The EU, World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and other international safety bodies are all saying that GM crops are not risky than conventional crops based on their studies for the past 20 to 25 years,” he reiterated.
The research on global biotech crops showed that a total of 18 million farmers in 27 countries have cultivated 175.3 million hectares of biotech crops in 2013, which was up by 3 percent from 170 million hectares in 2012.
The global hectarage of biotech crops have increased more than a hundred-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013 making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.
The study also showed that developing countries have planted more biotech crops than industrial countries in 2013.
Farmers in the developing countries have collectively grew 94 million hectares or 54 percent of the global 175 million biotech hectares compared with industrial countries at 81 million hectares or 46 percent almost doubling the hectare gap from 7 to 14 million hectares between 2012 to 2013, respectively.
Of the 27 countries which planted biotech crops last year, 19 were developing and 8 were industrial countries. Eight of the top 10 countries were developing which grew more than 1 million hectares.
Dr. Paul Teng, Chairman of the ISAAA Board of Trustees, stressed that biotechnology would help boost the capability of countries to ensure food security amid challenges such as increasing population, unexpected severe weather events, declining agriculture growth, among others.
“Biotech crops would help address food security through ensuring surplus food production with stable prices and utilizing labor saving production technology while decreasing effects caused by pests, droughts, pesticide pollution, among others,” according to Dr. Teng. (PNA)