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Philippines: Expert says Philippines might turn to GM trees to meet timber, pulp, paper needs

Nov. 30, 2007

The top biotechnology expert of the Department of Agriculture said the Philippines may soon find itself planting genetically engineered trees if it is to meet the countrys timber, pulp and paper requirements and save its remaining forests from extinction.


Dr. Saturnina Halos said the Philippines is becoming more reliant on planted trees for its timber, pulp and paper requirements, and will soon be compelled to turn to genetically engineered trees to meet the local industry demand.
One genetically engineered species that may be introduced in the Philippines, according to Halos, is Eucalyptus camaldulensis genetically engineered for bioremediation of heavy metal contaminated soils.
The species may be suitable in polluted mining areas, she said, referring to areas where large-scale mineral exploration is being done.
Speaking before scientists and representatives of government biosafety policy and regulatory bodies during the Seminar on Forestry Biotechnology at the National Pesticide Analytical Laboratory (NAPL) Conference Room, Bureau of Plant Industry Compound, in Quezon City, Halos said there is a need for government to prepare for the inevitable, which is the introduction of genetically engineered trees with superior traits in the Philippines.
The seminar was organized by the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP) as part of the week-long celebration of the 3rd National Biotechnology Week.
Halos presented a paper entitled Genetically engineered trees: Global status and prospects and the Philippines and Genetically engineered trees: biosafety considerations and policy recommendations along with Forester Jesus Javier, chief of the Reforestation Division of the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Javier presented a paper on the Green Philippines Program Trees for Life being spearheaded by the DENR, which aims to plant 20,000 million trees as part of its massive reforestation efforts.
According to Halos, from 2000 to 2005, the volume supplied by planted trees range between 62 percent to 92 percent.
She said the government plans to establish 40,000 hectares of commercial plantations per year or a total of one million hectares over the next 25 years to meet the countrys timber requirements.
However, Halos said the Philippines has no specific policy for genetically engineered trees, hence, requiring government to review its biosafety policy options to prepare for the genetically engineered or genetically engineered trees generation.
Genetically engineered trees refer to industrial, non-food trees purposely modified by DNA technology for useful purposes.
According to Halos, the latest Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) report showed that genetically engineered trees are being developed in 35 countries, with China leading in tree biotechnology.
China is the country with the most number of genetically engineered species under field trials and is the only country that has commercially released genetically modified (GM) trees by planting about one million insect-resistant GM trees.
She said the Philippines has yet to conduct research and development for such purpose, although there are already at least 32 genetically engineered species and hybrids of trees being grown in field trials, mostly belonging to the genus Populus, in different countries including Canada, China, Finland, USA, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Norway, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Brazil and Portugal.
Traits like insect and herbicide resistance are being introduced. (biolife news service)

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  • Alex R. Palero

    As a researcher and a forester by profession,GM trees are newly-introduced tree species in the country today which need to be studied through research and development. I have apprehensions that even the “environmentalist group” especially the civil society organization may have negative perceptions of these species similar with the genetically-modified organism (GMO) for corn and other agricultural crops. The acceptability of these species should validated at the researchers to the tree farmers level.
    In forestry, it is called as tree improvement program which involves the process of tree selection from phenotypically superior mother trees into quality seeds then quality seedlings. The process starts from identified seed sources, seed production and seed and seedling orchard.

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