A PROFESSOR from the University of the Philippines-Mindanao
has urged the government to revolutionize its policy on biotechnology
and support scientists whose work on local biological research
promotes genetically improved crops.
In a statement, Chris Michelina, managing director of Initiative
for Farm Advocacy and Resource Management, said the issue was
raised by Eufemio Rasco Jr. during the recent launching of his
book, entitled The Unfolding Gene Revolution, that shatters
myths that biotechnology can only be the domain of rich countries.
Rasco also proposed that the government invest more funds in
research and development to develop agriculture biotechnology
products that are distinctly Filipino and appropriate for the
country’s soil, climate and palate.
Michelina said Rasco, who specializes in plant breeding, maintains
that the country must free itself from the ideological straitjacket
that biotechnology is evil as it meddles with nature and interferes
with the work of the divine.
Rasco also slammed the antibiotechnology lobby as keeping agriculture
and scientific enterprise in the country from moving forward.
“The antibiotech movement has only succeeded in scaring
small companies from investing in biotechnology and some small
governments from investing in biotechnology. They have unwittingly,
or wittingly, contributed to the creation of a monopoly of biotech
business,” Rasco lamented.
Moreover, he said the Philippine government has been saddled
by a clash at the level of policymakers, with the Department
of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology
against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, despite
the official probiotechnology slant of the Executive department.
In calling for sustained support for R&D, Rasco recalled
the cases of Vietnam, which sent students to learn the ropes
of biotechnology at UP Los Baños in the 1970s, the same
decade when UPLB established its institute on biotechnology.
Today, Rasco lamented, Vietnam operates three different units
on the life sciences, with its cadre of experts first trained
on the rudiments of biotechnology in the Philippines and later
deployed to the US and England for postgraduate work.
Similarly, the UP professor explained, tiny Singapore organized
its biotechnology unit only in 1987 and recruited experts overseas.
Today Singapore, with a population only a third of Davao City’s,
is recognized for its work on the puffer-fish genome that led
to the discovery of 1,000 putative human genes.