DA cites serious implications of banning genetically modified products

By Kris M. Crismundo

MANILA, Dec 17 (PNA) — The Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Advisory Team (DA-BAT) has cited serious implications of the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision of banning “the use, testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)” in the country.

Dr. Saturnina C. Halos, DA-BAT Chair, said in an e-mail to the Philippines News Agency that SC’s declaration of DA Administrative Order (AO) No. 8 as null was a “surprise” as it would affect several sectors.

The DA AO No. 8 released in 2002 regulates the importation and release to the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.

“Declaring DA AO 8 null, (void) is a surprise since this ruling would affect several sectors who were not represented in the Court at all,” said Halos adding that only the sectors affected by Bt eggplant field trials such as project implementers, project regulators, farmers, and Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) — a non-government organization promoting responsible use of GM crops — were represented in the Court.

The SC decision orders to permanently halt field trials of Bt eggplant and to temporarily stop the use of GMOs until a new administrative order on genetically engineered products is in place.

“It took the Department of Agriculture almost four years in drafting the DA AO 8,” Halos said.

●Implications on several sectors

“Stopping the Bt eggplant field trials basically infringes on the academic freedom of the UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Baños) researchers and goes against the Constitution,” the official added.

“Field trials are now on-going for drought tolerant corn. Climate change will be bringing in more drought. How can we save our corn crops from drought if we are stopped from experimenting? Some of the approved GM corn currently being planted by our farmers need their permit renewed,” Halos pointed out.

As of 2014, there are more than 400,000 biotech corn farmers who gain additional income of USD 200 million annually due to higher yield through biotechnology.

Another GM-crop dependent sector is the livestock industry which is the biggest consumer of GM crops. Of the country’s annual import of three million metric tons of soybean, majority are for chicken feed. The sector also consumes GM corn.

“Importers of GM crop commodities mainly GM soya used in making taho, soy sauce, etc. and animal feeds are stopped from importation. Maybe they can import non-GM soya which is about 20 percent more expensive in 2004 than GM soya if it can be found. This means all soybean products will increase in prices,” Halos noted.

“We also have food processors using imported GM soybean, GM canola and GM corn. Since they cannot import, they have to buy more expensive non-GM ingredients. So that increases food prices because we have many food products with GM soybean – hotdogs, baby food, etc.,” she added.

Halos also mentioned that aside from the agriculture sector, the health sector will suffer from SC decision as well.

“Hepatitis B vaccine is a GMO. The SC decision says stop import. Hepa B vaccine is only one of the GMOs in medicine and there are more,” she said.

●Environmental impact

In this case, the SC said it applied precautionary principle to protect the environment from the possibility of irreversible and serious harm due to lack of certainty on GMO safety.

Halos, during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation dialogue on food security, noted that GM farming has lower impact on environment.

She cited that GM farming that introduces insect resistance and herbicide tolerance traits saved 500 million kilograms of active ingredients from 1996 to 2012.

She added that this was equivalent to 8.7 percent reduction in using pesticides resulting in lower fossil fuels and decreasing carbon dioxide emission.

Drought tolerant GM crops likewise have conserved water through efficient usage.

It was also noted that biotechnology helps in saving biodiversity as about 132 million hectares of natural ecosystem were saved from conversion to farmland in a period of 17 years. (PNA)