DA urged not to rush crafting of biotech rules

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) should not rush the crafting of a new biotechnology policy to ensure that it will not suffer the same fate that befell Administrative Order (AO) 8, a non-governmental organization (NGO) said on Monday.

The Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) issued the statement amid reports that a new AO will soon be issued to replace AO 8, which was nullified by the Supreme Court last month.

“We are not against plant biotechnology or genetically modified organisms [GMOs] per se.  What we want is for a broader consultation process to take place before the concerned government agencies decide to come up with a new policy that may affect our health, environment and biodiversity and food security,” Agham Secretary-General Feny Cosico said in an interview.

Agham said a major issue on the cultivation of GM crops is food safety and the potential of GMO crops to taint or contaminate other crops through the natural processes, and eventually affect the country’s biodiversity.

She said a “broader consultation process” will strengthen the new policy, which should involve communities that could benefit or suffer from the cultivation of GM crops.

“The industry is just one of the many stakeholders in this issue.  Academe, scientific community, religious groups, environmental groups and others should have a say in the crafting of the new policy,” Cosico said.

Citing reports, Agham said a new joint policy being crafted by the departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, and Interior and Local Government will be signed on February 16. Cosico noted that the government has less than a month to conduct multi-sectoral consultations.

Proponents of GM crops said a new policy on biotechnology is needed to avert “serious disruptions” in the country’s food supply.

Cosico said that, while the crafting of a new policy is a welcome development, coming up with a comprehensive policy should be “thoroughly analyzed, vetted and consulted” with all concerned sectors.

“Consultations should not be rushed within a one-month deadline nor should it be dominated by industry players. The voices and concerns of farmers, consumers, local scientists and researchers who will be bear the brunt of the impacts of any approved GMO policy should be respected and heard,” she added.

Cosico noted that AO 8 was “railroaded,” as it was issued in 2002 sans proper consultations with concerned sectors.

AO 8 was criticized by farmers and science advocates for being “lax” in terms of regulating GM-based food, feed and processing products; for lacking provisions to ensure continued local monitoring for health and environmental impacts of GM plants and plant products; and the absence of a reliable dispute mechanism. She said a new policy on plant biotechnology should also ensure the accountability of concerned government agencies, as well as producers of a GM crop. 


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