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by Ramon Efren R. Lazaro / Correspondent
16-March-2009 BusinessMirror
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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.

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