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Government sees commercialization of Bt cotton by September 2012
by Jennifer A. Ng (Reporter)
03-August-2011 Business Mirror
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BARRING hitches, the Cotton Development Administration (Coda) said it expects Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) cotton to be commercialized by September 2012.

Coda administrator Eugenio D. Orpia Jr. said the multilocation trials for Bt cotton in various areas in the Philippines will start next month.

“We are still complying with the requirements. We have submitted a listing of sites for evaluation by the Bureau of Plant Industry and they are now evaluating which sites qualify,” said Orpia in a statement.

Coda, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it intends to conduct the trials in five sites: in Batac, Ilocos Norte; Alcala, Pangasinan; Santa Barbara, Iloilo; Polomolok, South Cotabato; and Tupi, South Cotabato.

The trials were delayed since the technology owner or developer failed to collaborate with Coda, Orpia noted.

He said it has been more than 10 years when the clamor for the introduction of Bt cotton started but things changed in 2004, when the Biotechnology Program of the DA initiated efforts to introduce and evaluate Bt cotton varieties locally.

Orpia admitted that Bt cotton should have been commercialized earlier than Bt corn but the technology owner thought there was not much commercial value for the product in the country.

“We negotiated with another technology developer who are the Chinese. We negotiated with the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Biocentury Transgene Company Ltd. in China for a collaborative project on Bt cotton commercialization in the Philippines,” he said.

“A memorandum of agreement was signed in 2003. It was signed and the DA committed to fund it, to fund the initial trials. The agreement involves the evaluation of existing hybrid Bt cotton varieties. It’s just plain evaluation as to the efficacy and agronomic potential under local conditions and then we can already start to introduce Bt cotton after complying with the biosafety requirements here in the Philippines,” Orpia added.

However, China banned the export of genetically-modified (GM) materials and the government had to work with BioCentury Transgene Co., which was tasked by Beijing to commercialize the Bt cotton technology, and eventually ended up dealing with a franchise seed company in India, Nath Biogene Ltd.

“They were given the franchise to commercialize it by introducing the gene to their own varieties in India,” he said.

Orpia noted that the Indian government does not ban the export of genetic materials. Though the technology and seeds may have come from China, which they call the fused Bt gene, they were used on Indian cotton varieties, Orpia revealed.

“China has [intellectual property rights issues] on this. This is the gene that they gave to the Indian seed company, and the Indian seed company inserted this to their own varieties. So, what is provided now as Bt cotton seeds are seeds of Indian-developed varieties but inserted with the China developed Bt gene,” he said.

Coda said Bt battles the corn borer in corn, the fruit-and-shoot borer in eggplant and bollworm in cotton.

“Bollworm is a major pest. It’s a relative of the corn borer and the fruit-and-shoot borer of eggplant. It causes the most problems among cotton pests,” said Orpia.

The Philippines imports an average of 40,000 metric tons of lint valued at P3 billion. The DA noted that around 97 percent is imported from the United States.

Apart from displacing the imports, the Philippines hopes to replicate the success of India not just in the commercial propagation of Bt cotton but also in the export of the GM product.

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