Filipino scientists, regulators look into GMO perceptions

PHL regulations on GMO and the Bt ‘talong’ case

In the field of agriculture and genetic engineering, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have already been studied and tested with careful investigations by renowned scientists. So far, the only available GMO that has been planted in the Philippines is Bt corn.

According to Benigno Peczon, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc., the Philippines is considered a leader in Asia when it comes to biotechnology guidelines. He said in an interview, “We are the first in Asia in terms of how to do with biotechnology, and other countries even come here to learn from us on how we regulate our biotechnology.”

Maria Theresa Cerbolles, Food Drug Regulation Officer III of the Food and Drug Authority, noted there has been no evidence of GMOs’ negative health effects to humans.

She said in an interview with the BusinessMirror: “None that we know of, and even with DOH [Department of Health], in our epidemiology bureau, there’s no direct data that would implicate GMO products to any diseases that we have right now.”

Yet, the issue on regulations surged when Bt talong was marked with concerns and disputes.

“It did not follow the National Biosafety Framework on GMOs, which required the involvement of the five agencies set by the NBF,” she told the BusinessMirror. The five agencies include the departments of Agriculture (DA), Science and Technology (DOST), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Health (DOH) and the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Hence, the Supreme Court stopped the field trials of Bt talong.

Precautionary principle

The other basis of the ruling was the precautionary principle. According to lawyer Edgardo Carlo Vistan, OIC of the Institute of International Legal Studies, the Supreme Court considered various events, like studies or perhaps reports, journal articles, published scientific studies, and also the testimonies of various experts who were made to testify in one hearing all at the same time, and the Court of Appeals justices who were assigned to hear the case, asked them questions as if they were just in a roundtable.

He told the BusinessMirror, “Based on that, the Supreme Court was not satisfied that the  data they had and the evidence presented of the proponents of the GMO use would negate the uncertainty or the danger that were feared that were used by the GMO crops.”

Currently, the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8, which was the guidelines followed in GMO research and testing, has been nullified by the Supreme Court.

However, a joint department circular has been signed by the five agencies of the DOST, DA, DENR, DOH and the DILG, which states clearly the general provisions “for research, development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of GM plant and plant products.”

Beyond this order, scientists are still concerned on how the perceptions of GMOs are seen by the public.

“I think the scientific community and the government need to collaborate,” Vistan said. “The problem is we have very limited number of scientists, and most of them are the proponents and, of course, they can’t work with the government because of the conflict of interest.”

Vistan added, “But, perhaps, that’s why we need more scientists to work with the government to come up with rules that our scientists and biotech industry will appreciate, and we must have legal parameters that will allow our government to accept products or methods that are 100-percent certain to be safe, and by doing that we will encourage our science and industry stakeholders to develop new applications and technologies.” 

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Stephanie Tumampos

Stephanie Tumampos has a Bachelor's degree in Applied Physics obtained at the University of the Philippines Los Baños and a master's degree in Environmental Engineering obtained from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is currently a correspondent and a photojournalist for more than 3 years in BusinessMirror and writes under the Science, Biodiversity and Faith pages.
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