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by Rudy A. Fernandez
28-January-2007 The Philippine STAR

The Philippines devoted 200,000 hectares to a biotech crop in 2006, thus remaining in the global league of "mega-countries" commercially producing genetically modified (GM) crops.

"Mega-countries," as defined by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), are those producing biotechnology or GM crops in 50,000 hectares (ha) or more.

Dr. Randy A. Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator and director of the Los Baños-based ISAAA Southeast Asian center, said the area devoted to GM or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn last year was almost three times the 70,000 ha in 2005.

Dr. Hautea and former University of the Philippines (UP) president Dr. Emil Q. Javier, now president of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), reported the strides achieved during the first decade (1996-2005) and 11th year of commercialization of biotechnology crops at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Pasig City recently.

The Philippines is the first Asian country to grow a major biotech crop (Bt corn).

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that naturally occurs in soil. Through genetic engineering technique, a specific gene of Bt has been introduced into a corn variety. The Bt corn produces its natural pesticide against the Asian corn borer, which is responsible for heavy losses incurred by Filipino corn farmers every year.

Now in its fourth year of growing this genetically engineered plant, the Philippines experienced an almost three-time increase in biotech crop hectares of Bt maize planted in 2006, according to statistics compiled by ISAAA headed by its chairman and founder, Dr. Clive James.

The country planted Bt corn for the first time in 2003, although it had passed its first regulation to deal with transgenic or GM crops as early as October 1990.

The future acceptance prospects for biotech crops in the Philippines look very promising with other products also being developed by national research institutes.

These are golden rice, fortified rice resistant to tungro virus and bacterial blight being developed by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice), and biotech papaya, eggplant, and tomato being developed by the UP Los Baños Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

Citing statistics, Hautea said that in 2006, 22 countries planted biotech crops in 102 million ha. This registered a sixty-fold increase over the 1.7 million ha when biotech crops (corn and tomato) were first planted in the United States in 1996, making it "the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history."

As of 2006, the US had remained on top of the biotech "mega-countries," devoting 54.6 million ha to genetically engineered crops.

The others are Argentina (18 million ha), Brazil (11.5 million), Canada (6.1 million ha), India (3.8 million ha), China (3.5 million ha), Paraguay (two million ha), South Africa (1.4 million ha), Uruguay (400,000 ha), the Philippines (200,000 ha), Australia (200,000 ha), Mexico (100,000 ha), and Romania (100,000 ha).

The other biotech crop-producing countries are Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, and Czech Republic, all less than 100,000 ha.

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