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MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines should take advantage of its pioneering role in Asia for the development and commercialization of biotech crops, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano urges.
Serrano delivered this plea during a recent seminar on biotechnology and transgenic crops, where he assured participants that modern biotechnology has already taken root in the country and this edge must be exploited to the hilt.
As chairman of the Department of Agriculture-Biotech Program Steering Committee (DA-BPSC), Serrano is at the forefront of the campaign to generate awareness and acceptance of transgenic crops.
Serrano stressed that the Philippines was actually the first country in Asia to commercialize Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn as it issued the permit for the massive propagation of the transgenic crop in 2002.
“This approval was issued after the proponent complied with all the requirements and the GM crop underwent the prescribed set of procedures,” he said.
“The risk assessment and efficacy validation were conducted under contained conditions and multi-location field trials,” Serrano added.
He noted that the infrastructure for full agri-biotechnology research and development (R&D) was firmed up as early as 1979, when the National Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) was established.
This trailblazing effort was recognized by the state in 1986, when the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) identified biotechnology as “the flagship of leading edge technologies.”
The enactment of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) in 1997 also led government to give priority to biotechnology programs in its annual budgetary allocations since the country’s accession to the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) and its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO), allowed freer entry of agricultural products.
In countering the flood of cheap, subsidized foreign farm goods, government thought biotechnology would allow farmers to raise their crop outputs at lower production costs.
This led to the creation of the Philippines Agriculture and Fisheries Biotechnology Program (PAFBP) in 2000.
Serrano argued that “biotechnology offers potentials in achieving greater productivity in agriculture and comparative advantage to allied industries and the business sector.”
Since the country also plunged headlong into globalization, he said, Filipino farmers and fishermen “must sharpen their technological edge to be competitive in the global market.”
Nonetheless, the government was predisposed to willy-nilly accept transgenic crops and propagate the same here without safety assessments and regulatory controls, which were set in the late 1990s with the creation of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) and the DoST’s issuance of the “Guidelines on Planned Release of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Potentially Harmful Exotic Species” in 1998.
For its part, the DA issued Administrative Order No. 8 (AO 8) in 2002 to cover GMOs and four years later, the government established the National Biosafety Framework and ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
From 2008 to 2009, Serrano revealed, the Philippines adopted the Codex Principles and Codex Plant Guidelines on food safety assessment.
Serrano maintained that the DA has also been continuously reviewing AO 8 and its adherence to international standards and protocols.
AO 8 covers four major activities for GMO testing, from the importation of the genetic materials, importation of GMO crops for direct use for feed and food processing, conduct of field operations and release of seeds for propagation.
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) takes the lead in the assessing the applications for import permits and the assessment of the technology, with technical assistance from the Science and Technology Review Panel (STRP), the Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority (FPA), Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards (BAFPS).
To make the scientific assessment at par with international requirements, government has been upgrading the skills of scientific personnel and improving laboratories and facilities nationwide. (biolife news service)