Economy


No quick fix from GM food -- Piñol




Posted on August 22, 2016


AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said genetically modified (GM) foods won’t be a “quick fix” in filling in gaps in the food supply.

“Personally, I’m not really convinced that GM plants are the quick-fix solution to our shortage of food,” Mr. Piñol told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

He said Vietnam and Thailand have not extensively adopted GM and yet they produce enough to become the world’s second and third-largest rice exporters, respectively.

“If you look at Vietnam and Thailand, they do not embrace GM but they are self-sufficient. The belief that GM will provide the magical solution to our shortages... should be reviewed,” said Mr. Piñol.

This is the first time Mr. Piñol has indicated his position on GM, having asked previously for more time to evaluate the technology.

The current administration’s view is a reversal of former Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala’s position, which sought to incorporate GM in pushing up productivity.

Mr. Piñol added that he will nonetheless abide by the recent decision of the Supreme Court.

The country’s top court halted in December the use, field testing, and propagation of Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) eggplant, with the decision applicable to all genetically modified foods that are subject to regulation here.

To lift the moratorium, a new set of regulations required tighter environmental scrutiny before biosafety permits are issued, addressing one of the issues the Supreme Court cited when it voided the old rules, in place since 2002.

In August, however, the Supreme Court reversed itself since the initial decision was based on petitions that were rendered moot because Bt eggplant field trials had been completed and the biosafety permits issued by the regulator had expired.

For his part, Vivencio R. Mamaril, officer-in-charge at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), cited yellow corn production, which is made up of 90% GM.

“We are sufficient in corn and that’s because of the GM technology,” Mr. Mamaril said in a phone interview, referring to yellow corn, which is used for feed.

Mr. Mamaril added that he has requested a meeting with Mr. Piñol to present the biotechnology program.

The bureau, along with the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines and the independent Scientific and Technical Review Panel, is in charge of biosafety, risk assessment, and regulation for all GM organisms that enter the Philippines.

The Philippines is the first country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to initiate a biotechnology regulatory system.

Philippine Maize Federation, Inc. (PhilMaize) President Roger V. Navarro said the country should consider adopting new ways to address the widening demand for food on the back of rapid population growth.

“There are a number of ways in order to achieve food sufficiency, like good agriculture practice, mechanization, post-harvest (management), enabling policies and certainly biotechnology is just one -- to increase production per unit of land,” Mr. Navarro said in a mobile message.

“Our land is not increasing, but the demand is, ergo technology must come into play,” PhilMaize’s president added.

Last year, the country achieved 113% sufficiency in yellow corn, according to Mr. Navarro. -- Janina C. Lim