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by Rudy A Fernandez
12-Mar-2001 Philippine Star
Scientists from government agencies and state colleges and universities in various parts of the country have appealed to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that the field-testing of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the country be continued in order that a continuing research and education on biotechnology can take place.

"We seek your support to local biotechnology R&D program to further boost our capability for agricultural modernization," the scientists from institutions from the Ilocos region to Mindanao stated in a petition letter to the chief executive. 

The signatories to the petition letter come from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCARRD), DOST-Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development (PCASTRD), Department of Agriculture (DA), DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), DA-Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), the UPLB-based Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) for Southeast Asia, Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), the Los Baños-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Southeast Asia Center, National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP); Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB), Bureau of Export Trade Promotions (BETP), Far Eastern University (FEU), Isabela State University (ISU), Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU, Batac, Ilocos Norte), Central Mindanao  University (CMU), Biotech Lead (Monsanto). and Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines.

The scientists described themselves as "your partners in realizing social equity, food security and global competitiveness for the Philippines."

"Filipino scientists have always aimed at developing products and processes designed to improve the lives of Filipino farmers and consumers," they stated. These include improved varieties of crops, fish stocks, and animal breeds; production of off-season fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants – processes that lengthen the shelf-life of plant and food products and give better tasting and nutritious food.

In spite of all these developments using conventional techniques, research shows that the productivity level has reached a plateau. The burden of feeding a fast-growing population that will double in 35 years to 150 million combined with shrinking arable lands is exerting pressure on the Philippines’ objectives of achieving food security and poverty alleviation.

"Thus, we must find new ways to address this huge dilemma," they asserted.

The scientists explained that modern biotechnology, which includes genetic engineering, is a powerful technology currently harnessed by 13 countries. More than 44 million hectares had been planted to biotechnology crops as of Year 2000.

"For agricultural crops, it has been proven to immensely improve production, while minimizing the need for expensive and potentially harmful chemical inputs like pesticides. Hence, it could help increase the income of small-scale farmers, provide more nutritious food at affordable prices to consumers while supporting the sustainability and preservation of the environment," they emphasized.

They also noted that modern biotechnology in the pharmaceutical sector has been achieved long ago. This technology is also extensively used in the livestock sector in the production of recombinant vaccines.

"It is essential that the technology be also harnessed to improve food and agriculture in the Philippines," they stated.

According to them, the science community, together with the government and the consumers, recognizes the safety concerns over genetically modified organisms.

Hence, prudent steps are being taken to assure the safety of the general public through regulatory agencies such as the BFAD, BPI, Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), and Bureau of Agricultural and Fishery Products Standards (BAFPS).

The creation in 1990 of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines through Executive Order 430 provides the mechanism for the safe conduct of biotechnology research and development. Biosafety guidelines and mechanisms have been formulated after extensive public consultation.

The set of guidelines developed by the NCBP on the handling and release of GMO is one of the world’s most stringent, compliance of which is strictly monitored by the NCBP. The committee is multisectoral and includes representatives from the government, the scientific community, the public, and civil society.

Various members of civil society – farmers, industry associations, professional associations and business community – have joined the science and academic community in supporting research and development and responsible use of GMOs," they concluded.
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