GMO plants and cheaper brands of cigarettes | Inquirer Opinion
As I See It

GMO plants and cheaper brands of cigarettes

/ 01:03 AM December 16, 2013

1. Last August, we wrote about the destruction of a small experimental farm in Pili, Camarines Sur, by a group of farmers, obviously led by environmentalists. They invaded the farm and uprooted the rice seedlings being grown to test crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The GMOs would have made the rice plants resistant to pests and diseases and give the farmers higher yields. On the other hand, the environmentalists are afraid GMO food may contain substances that could be harmful to humans.

This battle is raging not only over rice plants but also over eggplants, better known as “Bt talong.” Eggplants are vulnerable to insects that lay eggs on the fruit. When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the fruit and grow bigger inside. From the outside, the eggplants look unblemished, but inside they are infested with worms.

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To fight the infestation, the farmer sprays his plants with pesticide. However, the pests become resistant to the pesticide, so that the farmer is forced to progressively increase the dosage. This pesticide accumulates in the eggplants, so that by harvest time, they contain amounts of pesticide residue that are no longer safe for human consumption. Those beautiful eggplants you buy in the markets may already be harmful to humans.

Ironically, by opposing eggplants with GMOs on the ground that they may be harmful to humans, the environmentalists are actually making more harmful the non-GMO eggplants.

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GMOs will make the use of pesticides unnecessary by making the eggplant resistant to pests. It is the same thing with rice. The GMO will not only make the rice resistant to pests but will also increase the yields. But the environmentalists associated with the European pressure group Greenpeace, afraid that the rice with GMOs may be harmful to humans, egged the farmers in Pili to destroy the rice plants on field trial in the experimental farm. They do the same thing with farms growing the experimental eggplant Bt talong.

Here is an update on the issue, which is bad news for Greenpeace: A Laguna court has ordered the arrest of alleged Greenpeace “vandals” who were charged in connection with the attack and destruction of a government-owned trial farm planted with the pest resistant Bt talong. Court records show that the respondents forced their way into the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) farm and destroyed the GMO eggplants, causing more than P20 million in damages to UPLB. The university filed charges against the environmentalists. When three Greenpeace members refused to attend the court hearing, Judge Regina Balmores-Laxa ordered their arrest.

Eleven environmentalists are facing charges of malicious mischief for allegedly destroying the farm at UPLB. Both rice and eggplant field trials are being supervised by the Department of Agriculture and Filipino scientists from UPLB.

Our view on this and on GMOs is that any policy decision in our country must be based on verifiable scientific facts and research rather than on unfounded fear.

Scientists, including our own Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, head of the Food and Drug Administration, have already said that genetically engineered food and crops approved for commercialization are safe both for humans and the environment.

We would rather believe experts and an agency which have their reputations on the line rather than an activist group that raises millions of dollars propagating scare worldwide.

We also object to the use of destructive methods like the raids on experimental farms. This Greenpeace tactic shows disrespect both for our laws and for scientific evidence. It

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baffles us that Greenpeace operatives in the Philippines actually believe that they can destroy and burn down government property and get away with it. Despite its huge financial resources, Greenpeace cannot claim immunity to criminal acts.

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2. In another column, we wrote about a small Filipino cigarette company, Mighty Corp., accused of tax evasion, undervaluation and misdeclaration of imported raw materials. Mighty sent a reply and, to be fair, we are presenting its side.

Background: When the Sin Tax Law was passed, greatly increasing the prices of cigarettes, Mighty which has its factory in Bulacan, grabbed a bigger share of the market dominated by American-owned Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Co. by selling low-priced cigarettes costing only P1 per stick.

How can Mighty sell cigarettes at such a low price, its competitors asked. It must be using substandard materials and cheating on its taxes.

Not so, said Mighty. We can afford to sell cheap because we have less operating costs. We do not pay any franchise fees or foreign consultants. What’s more, we use more locally grown Virginia tobacco than imported tobacco, thus giving employment to Filipino tobacco farmers.

Yesterday, the Inquirer reported that Mighty will increase the volume of tobacco purchases from the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions in 2014. Its share of the domestic market, it said, has risen from five percent to 20 percent.

“We are returning a fair share of our success to the Filipino tobacco farmers,” it said.

What is the secret of Mighty’s success? Simply put, the Sin Tax Law. When the taxes on cigarettes were increased, thus greatly increasing their street prices, smokers looked for cheaper alternatives. And that’s where Mighty came in.

Mighty has been quietly operating for 68 years by producing and selling low-priced and purely Filipino brands of cigarettes. When the prices of premium and subpremium cigarettes skyrocketed, 25 to 30 percent of their smokers simply shifted to low-priced alternatives.

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