THE current skyrocketing cost of rice, agricultural crops
and other basic commodities are expected to spark spirited
debate on the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
touted as a means to help in the worsening problem of hunger,
poverty and malnutrition being experienced worldwide.
In the Philippines, anti-GMO advocate Greenpeace warned
the government from using the ongoing rice crisis as an excuse
to set aside existing regulations of the government regarding
GMOs, saying there are other sources of GMO-free rice.
Biotechnology advocates, led by the Biotechnology Coalition
of the Philippines (BCP), a broad alliance of scientists,
academicians and NGO workers, support the use of biotechnology
in agriculture to ensure food security.
The BCP believes the government has the most stringent regulation
to ensure that the GMOs being allowed entry in the Philippines,
whether for food, feed or processing, are safe for human
consumption, as well as the environment.
Agriculture officials believe that biotechnology is the
key for the country’s survival during these trying
times when the country is faced with problems, such as poor
food production owing to unfavorable and extreme weather
conditions—such as drought and super typhoons because
of climate change, which is severely affecting the Philippine
Director Alice Ilaga of the Department of Agriculture Biotechnology
Program Office (DA-BPO) said there’s economic opportunity
Ilaga has been going around remote areas in the country
to promote farming for natural ingredients, such as the lowly
malunggay, touted as the miracle tree.
Farming for natural ingredients is one of two directions
identified in the DA’s Biotechnology Road map which
was developed by biotechnology experts the DA commissioned
for the purpose. The other
being strengthening the country’s traditional agri-fishery
products through modern biotechnology.
Government scientists are developing superior crops using
biotechnology, including recombinant DNA technology or genetic
Currently in the pipeline are pest-resistant eggplants,
a variety induced with the soil bacterium Bacillus thriengensis,
which is now in the controlled field trial stage in Bay,
There is also the virus-resistant papaya and papaya with
delayed ripening trait. Scientists are also working on the
multivirus-resistant tomato. All of these aim to increase
In December 2002, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) approved
for commercialization the first genetically engineered crop
in the country—the Bt corn.
This was followed by another corn seed technology, the Roundup
Ready (RR) corn, a corn variety that was genetically engineered
to survive herbicide. It is now being used by farmers in
the upland areas, particularly in Iloilo, and has been credited
for the growth of the corn sector in the province.
Dr. Saturnina Halos, the top biotechnology expert of the
DA, insists that agricultural biotechnology is the key to
modernizing agriculture, saying it is only
through gene-splicing technique that scientists can come
up with superior crops to ensure food security.
Halos, who calls herself a “biotech entrepreneur” having
developed and commercialized Vital-N, a biofertilizer which
improves the growth and resistance of rice and corn, and
ensuring increased yield, said since the Bt corn and RR corn
were released commercially, there has been no report of its
adverse effect both to animals and the environment. Bt corn
and RR corn are currently being used for animal feedstock.
A group of corn farmers, the Philippine Maize Federation,
attested to the significant change in their lives after using
genetically engineered corn, noting that besides the increase
in yield from 3.5 tons to as high as 8 tons to 10 tons per
hectare, they no longer spend for the expensive pesticide
to get rid of the dreaded Asian corn borer, which used to
cut their production to half when using regular or even hybrid
Among the current highlights of the GMO research in the
country are the Philippine Rice Research Institute and the
International Rice Research Institute project on the “Golden
Through genetically engineered rice, they intend to increase
the beta-carotene content of the staple for increased vitamin
A. This, in particular, aims to solve the growing problem
of malnutrition suffered by millions of women and children
in the Philippines.
Besides fortifying the staple with vitamins and micronutrients,
scientists are developing genetically improved rice varieties
to increase yield and resist drought or flood, thus ensuring
bountiful harvest all year round.
Greenpeace, however, insists that GMOs are not the solution
to the current rice crisis.
Its call came at the launch of a landmark United Nations
(UN) and World Bank-funded report, the very first assessment
of global agriculture that recommends the replacement of
destructive chemical-intensive agriculture with methods that
work with nature not against it.
The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and
Technology for Development (IAASTD) said, “Continuing
with current trends in production and distribution would
exhaust our resources and put our children’s future
The report, drawn up by about 400 international experts
at the behest of the World Bank and the UN food agency, called
for a “more holistic view of agriculture.”
“And the increasingly globalized food market and ever-increasing
food imports mean that no country can assume itself to be
immune to the implications,” it added.
“Although considered by many to be a success story,
the benefits of productivity increases in world agriculture
are unevenly spread,” it further said.
Although the report made no mention of modern biotechnology
or GMOs, Greenpeace said in a statement: “Some 60 governments,
meeting in Johannesburg since last week, have signed the
IAASTD’s final report expected to guide agricultural
and food production in the coming decades. The report says
industrial agriculture has failed and that GMOs are not the
solution to poverty, hunger or climate change.”
Greenpeace said the recommendations of the UN report are
especially significant as it clearly shows the failure of
past and present government-initiated programs to boost rice
production through agriculture highly dependent on costly
toxic chemical inputs as well as corporate-owned seeds, such
as GMOs and hybrid seeds.
It said the UN IAASTD report is highly critical of GMOs,
calling instead for a fundamental change in farming practices,
in order to address soaring food prices, hunger, social inequities
and environmental disasters.
Greenpeace maintains that the Philippine government’s
plans to increase fertilizer subsidies and its support of
GMO crops are unsound farming practices that would endanger,
rather than improve, the country’s agricultural sector.
“By using these methods, the government is actually
compounding the food problem, not solving it,” said
Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace’s campaigner.