Environmental groups tell APEC, ASEAN: Stop GMO policy integration

Greenpeace, together with Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) and Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (Sibat), called for a halt on genetically- modified organisms (GMO) policy integration in the ASEAN and APEC agendas, and urged the Philippine government to support the research and development of Ecological Agriculture in the country.

The activists also launched a large balloon with banner message clamoring “For a food-secure and GMO-free APEC and ASEAN”.

Leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member-economies are meeting in Manila from Nov. 18-19, shortly after which the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet on Nov. 21-23 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“We are concerned that the Philippines, as host of APEC, is promoting genetically modified crops in the region despite the opposition and legal challenges that it faces in its own territory,” says lawyer Zelda dT Soriano, Legal and Political Advisor of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, a non-profit environmental group.

The Department of Agriculture (DA), meanwhile, continues to advocate for the creation of an economic community, which will establish a single market and production base that will set a ‘common standard’ for GMO crops across the ASEAN region. In October, the DA also requested APEC delegates to show improvements in implementation of GMO regulations in the country [1].

At the press conference, Soriano pointed out that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM crops and there are still no established results that support its cost and benefit.

Greenpeace and its allies believe that while the Philippines is the first ASEAN country with a GM crops regulatory system in the region, it is far from being an ideal model or benchmark. Though a policy statement and administrative order are in place, there is no law or legislation passed that governs GM crops field-testing, commercialization, and related activities.

“The current administrative order and its implementation is beset with complaints and questions for lack or inadequacy of economic, social, environmental and other safeguards from the potential adverse impacts and risks of GM crops,” Soriano added.

In 2013, the Court of Appeals granted the petition of civil society groups and farmers against field-testing of genetically modified eggplant or Bt talong in the Philippines. The the following year, an extraordinary administrative opposition— signed by more than 25,000 Filipinos— was submitted to the DA-Bureau of Plant Industry calling for transparency and reforms in the regulation of GM crops. The agriculture agency has yet to act on the administrative petition.

“Government policies are often contradicting, like promoting chemical farming, GMOs, and organic farming. Controlling the transboundary flow of GM crops - in the context of ASEAN economic integration -is even more challenging. Contamination by natural or accidental means have been documented in so many countries and many times over,” said Dr. Chito Medina, Executive Director of MASIPAG.

An alternative—Ecological Agriculture, a farming method that combines modern science and innovation with respect for nature and biodiversity—is available, according to Shen Maglinte, Executive Director of SIBAT. Ecological Agriculture ensures healthy farming and healthy food. It protects the soil, the water and the climate. It does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs or use genetically engineered crops. And it places people and farmers – consumers and producers, rather than the corporations that control food supply – at its very heart.

“Not all modern technologies in agriculture are good and appropriate. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and hybrid seeds introduced 50 years ago, through the Green Revolution, impoverished farmers and damaged their farms. GM crops will do the same. Sustainable Ecological Agriculture, an appropriate farming system technology, through the support of the government, is the proper way forward,” said Maglinte.

The groups are asking the Philippine government to address its own issues at home and to immediately commence an administrative process to hear the opposition of Filipinos to GM crops and overhaul its flawed regulation.

Notes to the editor:

[1] http://www.sunstar.com.ph/iloilo/local-news/2015/10/01/agriculture-experts-gmo-organic-can-co-exist-433395

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