Ban on GMO crops, subsidy for ‘healthy’ agriculture sought

Jan. 19, 2014

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY – Activists here appeared to be gaining headway in blocking the inroads of genetically modified food products in the market, as some members of the City Council here would move to ban genetically modified agricultural crops in the city.

Councilor Joselle Villafuerte, chairperson of the Council’s health committee, told a forum on Thursday that she will prioritize a proposed ordinance to ban genetically modified crops.

The forum was organized by the Third World Network (TWN) at the City Council building.

This was a step farther from the resolution passed by the previous set of city councilors who voted to ban the planting in 2011 in a University of the Philippines demonstration farm of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong, a genetically-modified eggplant.

That City Council decision came amid a campaign mounted by environmentalist and activist organizations.

Another councilor, Leonardo Avila III, and an environmental advocate, attended the forum but left later.  Avila was then the chief of the Council committee on agriculture and the environment that pushed for the ban and uprooting of the Bt eggplant.

TWN’s Atty. Lee Aruelo has called on the enactment of an ordinance to ban GMO crop products to complement the city’s Organic Agricultural Ordinance.

“Unless the whole city is declared a GM-free zone, Davao’s organic zones will be at a continued risk of contamination by GM seeds being sold to farmers in the area,” she said.

The TWN and another leading environmentalist organization, Interface Development Interventions (Idis) said that “planting both organic and GM crops in one city or town, or what is called co-existing, posts risks to the biochemistry and productivity of organic crops once they are contaminated by GM seeds”.

They cited studies that show contamination of organic crops from GM crops, which is transferred through natural means such as wind and pollen, and also by mechanical ways through transportation of crops.

They said GM crops cannot “co-exist” with organic agricultural areas “at the risk of contamination and detriment to health and agriculture”.

Idis Executive Director, Ann Fuertes, also cited reports from the farmers’ support group, Masipag, that BT corn seeds were being sold to farmers in Marilog District. Davao Today is still trying to reach the group to verify the report.

Fuertes also said studies from the Philippine chapter of the global environment group, Greenpeace, which said it discovered contamination of local white corn from genetically modified BT varieties in Bukidnon and Sultan Kudarat.

The TWN said other places such as in Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Bohol have also banned GM crops, and the TWN said it wanted this action replicated in Davao and other Mindanao towns and provinces.

In the forum, TWN scientist Camilo Rodriguez Beltran from Mexico cited studies of alleged harmful effects of GMOs to health, environment and agricultural production.

One study he presented at the forum shows that feeding a GM-produced Roundup maize on rats had resulted to tumors. This study stirred debate though, among proponents and opposition to the GMO.

TWN said that member countries of the European Community also banned and limited GM crops and seeds in their country except for Spain.

Beltran, a scientist specializing in post-genomics, said the practice of co-existence among GMO and organic plants “is not a debate, as governments from other countries saw not only the environment and agricultural costs, but also the economic costs”.

He mentioned the “trade disruptions” such as in Japan, which rejected corn imports from New Zealand after tests showed the corn had been contaminated with GMO variety.

“In other countries, after looking at the broad impact, they decided not to have co-existence. Because it is not economically viable, they are not prepared make one decision and pay for the whole thing,” he said.

Beltran posed questions to local and national officials on how to manage agriculture with the extent of GM crops advocated by companies.

“My contribution here is to allow and spark questions. ‘What would be the consequence if we do it?’ Because if we do it, it would not just be the agricultural or environmental consequences; it would be of a social and economic consequence. I think the decision making should include the broad impact,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture has endorsed experiments of Golden Rice in the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna. The variety is genetically-modified purportedly to address vitamin-A deficiency among Filipino children. But TWN criticized the product for lack of safety assessment.

Beltran further asked if government could make a sound decision economically for agriculture.

“Is government going to subsidize (co-existence), or rather spend it in producing better or safer products? That’s the question. Maybe we can have healthier products with lower price if it subsidizes agriculture that is more sustainable, rather than spending on co-existence. It’s the discussion everyone should have. Once it is released, it is released, irreversible,” he said. (Tyrone A. Velez,

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