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New circular binds five agencies for renewed GMO testing push

DAVAO CITY—Five government agencies will pool their expertise together to address the technical pitfalls that led to the recall of all field testing of genetically modified eggplant in the country, which stalled its commercial production.

A joint department circular this year bundled the expertise of the departments of Health (DOH), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Interior and Local Government (DILG) to provide additional support to the effort of the departments of Agriculture and Science and Technology to push through with the tests.

The latter two agencies have mounted field tests on GMO
(genetically modified organism) eggplant and rice, and as early as 2012, their tests on Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant, as the genetically modified variety is called, were met with stiff legal opposition from environmentalists, who filed a case with the Supreme Court to stop the field tests. By 2014 the Court ordered a freeze on all tests.

The circular this year was an attempt to address the legal and technical loopholes that guided the implementation of the field tests. After a series of consultations with the five agencies, along with farmers, academicians and crop and science experts, the circular binding the five agencies was formalized in March, and officially recognized as an interagency arrangement to handle permits and licensing to proceed anew with the development of the GMO testing in the country.

The circular mandated the interagency arrangement to set up the rules and regulations for research and development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of genetically modified plant and plant products, derived from use of the modern technology.

Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, director of the Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office, said the DOH would address issues on human health on the testing and commercial production of genetically modified food organisms, while the DENR would ensure the well-being of the physical environment around the testing sites.

The DILG would ensure local government support to the program and protection to biotechnology
activities being undertaken, including field testing.

He was unsure, though, if the circular would rule on allowing proponents of the field tests to proceed with commercial production, even though only a few areas have generated initial results of the field tests. “But this circular has mandated these agencies to ensure proper compliance of the requirements in conducting the field tests or commercial production.”

“They would take charge of the permitting and licenses related to the scientific testing in the farms,” Mamaril said.

Mamaril spoke during the seminar on “Enhancing Agricultural Production Through BioTechnology” at the Apo View Hotel on Tuesday, where he answered a query from participants about the centralized one-stop shop permitting process to be handled by the DA.

“All the required permitting from the five agencies would be coursed through the DA,” he said.

Mamaril clarified, though, that the circular would not likely satisfy the opposition put up by environmentalists, “but the five agencies would be expected to be involved now in explaining to the public the issues raised on various issues about GMO.”

He said the interagency arrangement would not be temporary nor would it be dissolved after all field tests were already sufficiently established to warrant commercial production. “It’s just a circular bringing in these agencies that could provide their expertise and mandates to the development of the biotechnology and production of GMOs.”

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