“Assessing the evidence on record, as well as the current state of GMO research worldwide, the court finds all the three conditions present in this case — uncertainty, the possibility of irrevocable harm and the possibility of serious harm.” – Supreme Court
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – As the government signed a new policy on genetically modified organisms (GMO), farmers, scientists and consumer rights advocates held a protest outside the offices of concerned government agencies, Feb. 23.
Under the banner of Green Action PH, the groups denounced the railroading of public consultations and pointed out that the government violates the people’s right to safe food and to a balanced and healthful environment.
Civil society organizations said the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Interior and Local Government did not include most of their comments in the final draft of the joint department circular (JDC) on GMO.
Sanshen Maglinte, spokesperson of Green Action PH, said the government “is ignoring the precautionary principles to the detriment of farmers, unsuspecting consumers and other affected stakeholders.”
Maglinte is referring to the December 8, 2015 Supreme Court decision banning the field trials of genetically modified eggplant and nullifying the DA Administrative Order No. 8 on GMO. The landmark ruling cited precautionary principles, which advises prudence in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence on the safety of GMOs.
The Supreme Court said in its ruling, “Assessing the evidence on record, as well as the current state of GMO research worldwide, the court finds all the three conditions present in this case — uncertainty, the possibility of irrevocable harm and the possibility of serious harm.”
Green Action PH lamented that the Philippine government has not even done any post-release evaluation of the impact on human and animal health, on biodiversity from GMOs, including those imported for feeds and processing into food.
Leonora Lava of Greenpeace Philippines said that GMOs are not the same as their conventional counterparts and require more time and scientific attention. “The JDC should be able to safeguard the health and other interests of the public, so why rush it?” Lava asked.
Green Action PH is asking for more requirements for health studies, for regulatory standards and definition of responsibilities, duties and capacity of each regulatory agency.
The coalition said that in the JDC, the DOH is tasked with determining safety “without elaboration” and “safeguards are inadequate to protect the independence of regulators.”
Green Action PH added that while the JDC has a section on environment and health impact assessment, guidelines are not in place.
Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG questioned JDC’s Section 6, which states that the company or institution applying for and granted permits shall constitute an Insitutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).The IBC is responsible for the conduct of the risk assessment and preparation of risk management strategies of the applicant for contained use, confined test, or field trial.
“How can the companies be expected to have an objective assessment if it is done by the team they picked?” MASIPAG said in its comment. The group said the IBC should be composed of independent risk assessors with verifiable credentials.
Serving agrochemical TNCs
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said multinational and transnational agrochemical companies promoting GMOs are the ones who will really gain from this new JDC, not the Filipino producers and consumers.
The KMP said import permits for specific GM products including animal feeds and soya will expire this year. Nearly all imports of animal feed are genetically modified.
According to US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, the U.S. continues to be the Philippines’ number one supplier of agricultural products, and the Philippines is its ninth largest market in the world. In 2014, export sales increased nine percent to a record $2.73 billion.
Mariano said the new policy will support, strengthen and intensify the importation of GM crops and by-products.
Mariano, citing a 2015 USDA Agricultural Service report, said that new field trials are being planned for golden rice and field trials for Bt cotton were targeted in Luzon and Mindanao.
From 2015 to 2017, Monsanto, which currently controls 30 percent of the market of Bt coen in the country, will introduce four new varieties of Bt corn in Luzon and Mindanao.
MASIPAG is also alarmed that agrochemical companies could potentially abuse the JDC’s provision on deregulation.
The group called on government to focus more on agricultural systems that will benefit the environment and provide safe and sufficient food for the Filipino people.