THE Philippines was among the region’s biotechnology leaders due to innovations in agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.

The USDA-Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA-FAS) noted in its Global Agricultural Information Network report that the impending approval of permits to propagate plant biotechnology as well as regulatory frameworks for genetically-engineered (GE) animals.

“Golden Rice (beta-carotene-enriched rice or GR2E) field tests harvested in October 2019 and the Application to Propagate is expected soon,” according to the report.

Regulatory agencies of “United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have already issued the safety and nutritional approvals for GR2E,” the report said.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute applied for GR2E field trials for the beta-carotene-enriched rice to generate data for the environmental biosafety risk assessment in February 2017.

“Should regulators find no major concern, the approval may come as early as early 2020,” the report said.

As for the GE corn first introduced in 2003, the report noted steady commercial production with a cumulative planted area of over 7.2 million hectares, according to data from the Philippines’ Bureau of Plant Industry.

GE corn adoption in the March 2018 to February 2019 period was estimated at 658,267 hectares.

“(T)here are positive regulatory developments that may come to fruition by early 2020, including the completion of an ongoing review of the current biotechnology regulations embodied in the Joint Departmental Circular (JDC) of 2016,” according to the report.

Scientists have expressed their opposition to biotechnology regulations allowing the commercialization of genetic engineering (GE) research because they are “too restrictive” while stakeholders blame the slow approvals process amid limited resources, confusing procedures, and many personnel changes, the report said.

Meanwhile, the USDA also said that the Philippines does not have existing legislation concerning GE animals, but expressed optimism that a regulatory framework is approved early this year together with other laws related to plant biotechnology.

“Efforts along this line are underway, however, and a regulatory framework is expected to be approved sometime early 2020,” according to the report. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave