A UP Mindanao professor urged government to revolutionize its
policy on biotechnology and support scientists doing work on
parlaying local biological research to promote genetically improved
crops in situ and thus compete or even beat their colleagues
in the US, Canada, Singapore, China and Vietnam.
Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr issued this call in his recently launched
book, The Unfolding Gene Revolution, shattering myths that biotechnology
can only be the domain of rich countries and proposing that
government invest more funds in research and development to
develop distinctly Filipino agricultural biotechnology products
appropriate for the country’s soil, climate and even palate.
He spoke during a recent forum at the UP Mindanao campus in
Davao City sponsored by the Initiative for Farm and Resource
Management and CropLife Philippines and argued for stronger
support to biotechnology research on indigenous materials.
Rasco, who specialized in plant breeding while studying at
the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, maintains
that the country must free itself from the ideological straitjacket
that biotechnology per se is evil as it meddles with nature
and interferes with the work of the divine.
He slammed the anti-biotechnology lobby as contributing to
the backwardness of agriculture and the scientific enterprise
in the country.
“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 one wing comprised
of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science
and Technology clashing with the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources and the Department of Interior and Local Government.
This, despite the official pro-biotechnology slant of the executive
department, Rasco added.
In calling for sustained support for research and development,
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 UP Los Baños 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,
has been recognized for its work on the puffer fish genome that
led to the discovery of 1,000 putative human genes.