The Supreme Court (SC) has decided to ban “the use, testing, propagation, commercialization and importation of genetically modified organisms [GMOs].” This has been hailed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, scientists’ group Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) and other petitioners. They called the decision “a major victory for Filipino farmers.”
The SC made this decision based on the three principles of “uncertainty, the possibility of irreversible harm and the possibility of serious harm,” the first time a Court has done this in the world. If our current Supreme Court justices had been sitting on the bench 150 years ago—based on their logic—they would have banned the railroad and Light Rail Transit.
Dr. Dionysius Lardner was a prominent professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at University College, London. He reportedly said, “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” That would certainly qualify under the “uncertainty, irreversible and serious harm” doctrine of the SC.
In a clear case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” the SC decision, in broad stroke, virtually banned any genetically modified (GM) crop while addressing the specific issue of potentially insect-resistant Bt eggplant (talong).
The problem that the SC was apparently unaware about, or just ignored, is that about 800,000 hectares out of the estimated 1.2 million hectares in the Philippines devoted to corn are planted with the GM variant. According to studies from the University of the Philippines, the most risk-efficient planting date is in May. If the decision is not changed, what will those farmers plant in five months?
Further, the Philippines imports around 3 million metric tons of soybeans annually, a substantial amount for chicken feed. Virtually all global production of soybean is GM. In the US—the largest producer of soybeans—85 percent of all production is from GM crops. Argentina’s—the world’s third largest— soybean production is 98-percent GM varieties.
No part of the SC decision gives an indication of what the good justices recommend to feed Philippine chickens when they banned the importation of soybean meal.
One jokester had a suggestion after the Philippines passes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Philippine poultry farmers could emigrate to the US, restart their poultry operations, feed their chickens American GM soy meal, and export the chickens back to the Philippines duty-free.
But this is not a joke. The SC has temporarily stopped any application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of GM crops until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with law. Knowing how fast government agencies act on administrative order and rules, be prepared for a substantial increase in chicken prices in the months to come.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano
This is an opportunity for Filipino farmers to plant non-GMO corn and soy.
Comparing to the two stellar examples of agricultural responsibility where multinational corporations don’t call the shots: US and Argentina.