Manila – The Philippines recently hosted an “International Conference on Adoption of Biotech Crops in the Developing World” at the Hyatt Hotel. The conference was organized by The John Templeton Foundation, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), theSoutheast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), the National Academy of Science And Technology (NAST Philippines) and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII). Resource persons from China, India and the Philippines, countries with “extensive experience” with biotech crops were to convince other developing countries to plant these crops.
Biotech crops, more popularly known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), that are being promoted are Bt Corn and Bt Cotton. The term GMO has been replaced by the more acceptable “biotech crops” due to the continued lobbying of many groups of farmers, scientists, consumers, and other like-minded groups against the planting and commercialization of these crops.
The Network Opposed to GMOs or NOTOGMOs strongly opposes this move by local and international proponents to influence developing countries to plant GMO crops despite findings and reports of their adverse impact on the environment, economy and health of the consuming public.
During the press conference, Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of farmer-scientist group MASIPAG challenged the claims of Biotech companies that GMOs have improved the lives of farmers. Though their gross income may appear to have risen, their expenses have soared because they have to buy patented seeds and the accompanying fertilizers and pesticides at very high prices. Medina cited a report saying that at present, six Agrochemical Trans-National Corporations (Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and Du Pont) now control 59.8% of the world’s seeds and 76.1% of agrochemicals, making GMOs and agrichemicals very profitable businesses. In the end, this is about big business and not about agriculture, MASIPAG says.
Medina further stated that apart from socio-economic problems brought about by GMOs, many independent studies shows that GMOs may have ill effects on the environment and people’s health. In a study done by MASIPAG, it has been documented that poor farmers and indigenous people who eat GM corn suffer some form of toxicity. Soil erosion, the emergence of new pests and diseases were documented in farms planted GM corn. Medina also cited a recent study in Argentina, one of the biggest planters of Genetically Modified Soya, which showed that they have a high number of babies born blind or with undeveloped brains. This can be traced back to the pesticides in GMOs. In spite of this, no substantive post-commercial monitoring is being done by the regulators in the Philippines. Instead, the government has promoted GMOs despite the passage of the Organic Agriculture Law that prohibits GMOs.
Ka Tonying Flores of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that multi-national companies (MNC) are now controlling agriculture. Like Dr. Medina, he asserts that MNCs own the seeds sold in the market and are also the manufacturers of the pesticides and the fertilizers that are to be used along with the GM seeds. The farmers are at the mercy of the multi-nationals and the lending institutions where they run to for capital. Ka Tonying added that GMOs use a lot of pesticides which are slowly destroying the fertility of the soil and laments the gradual disappearance of many traditional seeds. He appealed to the government to pass the proposed House Bill entitled “GMO Free Agriculture Act” and actively help and subsidize farmers in the practice of sustainable agriculture instead of promoting of GMO seeds.
Mr. Jerry Batin, President of Barangay Salvador 1 Farmers Association & farmer representative of the Anti Poverty Reduction Action Team of Candon City, Ilocos Sur shared that they started planting Bt Corn 3 years ago because this was the only available seed in the market. Conventional corn seeds that they used to plant for many years have slowly disappeared. He shared that they were not aware that Bt Corn is a genetically modified but was only informed that it’s a variety resistant to the corn borer. However, Mr. Batin asserts that the corn borer ceased to be a problem in their corn fields as they practiced crop rotation to control these pests. Mr. Batin appealed to the government to recognize the rights of the farmers to choose the varieties of crops they want to plant and support training programs like the Farmer Field School on seed conservation and development that are currently being implemented by the City Government of Candon, in collaboration with the National IPM KASAKALIKASAN Program and the Sourtheast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE).
Gigi Chua of Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF) questioned the intended commercialization of GM crops such as Bt Corn, Bt Talong and Golden Rice as food for animals and humans. She claimed that there are no long-term studies on the safety of these crops. Furthermore, many independent studies are now linking GMOs to cancer, obesity, autism, multiple sclerosis, liver and kidney malfunctions, sterility, allergies, and even death. Instead of practicing the precautionary principle as in many European Countries, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and others who restrict the planting and importation of GMOs, the Philippines is rushing to commercialize Bt Talong and Golden Rice.
Ms. Chua added that consumers all over the world have been fighting for the labeling of food that contain ingredients derived from GMO but have been strongly opposed by the multi-nationals that own these patented plants. She further said that we are all eating GMOs in the form of fructose, soya powder, corn starch and syrup etc. which are added to processed foods without our knowledge. “We are all guinea pigs in an experiment on the safety of GMOs. Modern day illnesses, which are not caused by viruses nor bacteria, such as cancers, diabetes, autism sterility, etc., is on the rise and may be due to GMOs in our diets”., Ms. Chua concluded.
In closing, the Network Opposed to GMOs together with the Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochem TNCs (RESIST) reiterated their call to the government to practice caution with GMOs and to stop the promotion and eventual commercialization of these unnatural seeds and crops. They added that they strongly condemn the support of the government for the spread of GMOs whose negative side effects are now being seen in the environment, in the economic lives of our farmers and in the health of our consumers.