Debate on GMO rages in Davao City

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 August)—Amid the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a government scientist has assured that field trials of golden rice “are safe to human health and the environment,” and that calls for banning or labeling GMO products in the country are “unfounded.”

Golden rice is a new type of rice that contains beta-carotine, a source of Vitamin A, under experiment in the country.

“What they say about GMOs being unsafe, I don’t get that. We have studied GMOs for many, many years and regulators have even assured us that GMOs are as safe as any other product in the market,” Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., Philippine Rice Institute executive director, said in a phone interview.

Rasco was reacting to comments made at a recent forum here led by Go Organic Mindanao and the Sustainable Integrated Area Development Initiatives in Mindanao-Convergence for Asset Reform and Regional Development (SIMCARRD) about banning GMOs and golden rice.

In 2010, Rasco was among the leaders of the field trial of Bt eggplant at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao, which was stopped by former Mayor Sara Duterte apparently due to lack of public consultation and the protests mounted by anti-GMO advocates.

Lee Aruello, a lawyer from Third World Network, said that the call to ban GMOs “is parallel with the provision of an existing ordinance that promotes organic agriculture” in the city.

Aruello said that scientific experiments on genetically engineered crops should be contained in a laboratory.

“If I say I am against laboratory tests, people would say that I am anti-science. The bottom line is that as of now, we want a GMO ban in relation to the organic agriculture ordinance. Anything that causes contamination, that causes coexistence, ayaw natin nun (We are against that),” Aruello said.

“GMOs cannot coexist with organic agriculture,” she added.

Chito Medina, national coordinator of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, called for precautionary measures against genetically altered crops.

The Philippines has no law that bans the cultivation of GMOs.

Davao City Councilor Leonardo Avila III said that there has been no proposal banning GMOs filed before the current city council.

“There was a proposal before. Right now, no,” Avila said.

Medina said that “because the United States is among the major producers of GMO products, imported crops from that country should be presumed to have been genetically engineered.”

Rasco branded the claim as inaccurate, saying, “There are many corn and soya products coming from the US that are not GMOs.”

Medina said the problem with GMOs “is that the effect on humans and other organisms, because of the genetic manipulation, would take years.”

Vouching that GMOs are safe, Rasco claimed “that majority of the population in the country has favorable views on genetically engineered crops.”

Questioning the calls for the labeling of genetically modified products, Rasco pointed out that “studies have proven that they have no adverse effects to human health and the environment.”

Labeling will also be costly, especially for small farmers or growers, Rasco said.

He stressed that regulators, such as the Bureau of Plant Industry, require proponents of transgenic crops to prove that they are safe.

“That’s precisely what we’re trying to do, and these [anti-GMO] groups are stopping us from doing so,” Rasco said, noting that golden rice is not under field testing in Mindanao but in Pili, Camarines Sur.

Earlier this month, militant groups uprooted golden rice plants under field trial at the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit No. 5 in Pili town.

Rasco said that PhilRice was saddened by the incident, citing the experiment was contained in a 500-square meter area. (MindaNews)