Biotechnology increases farmers’ income

column-gagni-market filesIT would do well for the government to adopt biotechnology crops and be wary of the propaganda being spread by supporters of the environmental group Greenpeace, which has revived the debate on such crops by using the organic-food groups in the country as its proxies. In the United States, where Greenpeace’s loud opposition to biotech crops was silenced by the big income that farmers there are earning and by the decreased use of environmentally harmful pesiticides, that debate has been clearly resolved.

This time, the issue that opponents of biotech crops are now raising is the safety of consuming Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crop varieties, which is something already settled in studies made by the US Department of Agriculture Economic
Research Service. In fact, this agency, which tracks the development of such crops, has been able to even monitor the increased income of US farmers, something that has similarly benefited our country’s farmers who have planted Bt corn.

The way these people are running their propaganda campaign, it would seem that biotechnology is still experimental, is still subject to debate and at risk of being discredited. The way we see it, though, biotechnology is already beyond all that. And, if its enemies in the Philippines are still bent on eliminating it, it may be because of some hidden agenda other than safety.

The selling point of biotech crop varieties is that they are naturally
resistant to the pests that attack their nonbiotech counterparts. Because of this resistance, these varieties do not require the usual application of pesticides, which nonbiotech crops tend to depend on. Some 200 million hectares of farm land have already been planted with such varieties. If these crops were unsafe or had posed even very small risks to people’s health, farmers would not have devoted that much land to them.

Interestingly, American farmers boast of using the most number of hectares for the cultivation of biotech crop varieties. The US has one of the world’s highest standards of safety, and its farmers are sensitive to environmental issues. That millions of hectares of American farm land are planted with these crop varieties over the past decade supports scientific findings that biotech crops are safe for both humans and the environment.

Why Greenpeace has focused all its resources and attention on our country is baffling. Biotech-crop production in the Philippines is nothing compared to that in the US and Latin America. Why doesn’t Greenpeace wage its antibiotech war there, instead of here? Greenpeace started its antibiotech campaign in the country about a decade ago. At that time, the country was preparing to plant its first biotech-crop variety, Bt corn.

Since planting Bt corn, local farmers have enjoyed increasing yields, as well as increased incomes. But despite this, Greenpeace still insists on using scare tactics to discourage the cultivation of Bt crops. Why the environmental group apparently skipped the US, where its agriculture agency monitored $20 billion in earnings generated through biotech crops from 1996 to 2007, is puzzling.

With those numbers, the government should be alerted on what Greenpeace is trying to do and see through its efforts to revive the
issue of safety against biotech crops by fielding another ally, this time from the organic-foods sector—
efforts, by the way, that appear to have been wasted. This is just as well, for the next Bt crop that farmers should adopt is be Bt eggplant.


World Sight Day

THE government, through the Department of Health is joining a global effort to ensure that treatable blindness caused by diabetes, as well as cataract and even refraction problems, is taken care of. Dubbed World Sight Day, the forthcoming event, set for October 9, has already led Saint Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC) to come up with a discounted promo package for the treatment of eye ailments, which includes using its newly acquired Femto-Laser equipment, which utilizes bladeless
cataract surgery.

Dr. Noel Chua, head of the SLMC’s Eye Institute, said the hospital is joining the effort with its own awareness campaign from its Quezon City and Fort Bonifacio facilities to ensure the quality of life and productivity for people who may have treatable blindness. This campaign also includes training more eye doctors and launching its special eye treatments, like the Small Incision Lenticule Extraction, or SMILE, program.

What Dr. Chua has found out, though, is that, in many cases, an easy cure was found for many of those with eye problems. He told me that, in the SLMC’s corporate social responsibility programs in the provinces, doctors have discovered that all that these people needed was “a pair of eyeglasses.”



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