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Right first step to food security

12:29 AM February 10, 2016

The public should be wary on the apparent “rush” to come up with a new national policy on plant biotechnology to replace Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DA-AO8) that was nullified by the Supreme Court last month.

Reports indicate that a new joint policy—to be issued by the Department of Science and Technology, DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, and Department of the Interior and Local Government—will be signed on Feb. 16, with less than a month allocated for the so-called “multisectoral” consultations. Proponents of this railroading scheme, particularly owners of genetically modified plant-reliant feed mills and industries, are justifying this by saying that it will avert serious disruptions in food supply.

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We are one with the many academic and research institutions that oppose a blanket ban on GM plant research. We also welcome any initiative to craft a policy that dictates how plant biotechnology and its products are to be developed and used. However, the crafting of such a policy, especially one as comprehensive as the joint circular being drafted by the DOST, DA, DENR, DOH and DILG, should be thoroughly analyzed, vetted and consulted with all affected sectors. Consultations should not be rushed (that is, finished within just one month) nor should it be dominated by industry players. The voices and concerns of farmers, consumers, local scientists and researchers who will bear the brunt of the impacts of any approved policy on GM organisms should be heard and respected.

We should avoid the pitfalls of DA-AO8, which was passed in 2002 without consulting all affected sectors. It can be recalled that DA-AO8 was criticized by farmers and science advocates for being lax in the regulation of GM-based food, feed and processing products; for lacking provisions to ensure the continued local monitoring of health and environmental impacts of GM plants and plant products; and for the absence of a reliable dispute mechanism.

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We should not lose sight of the reason that national policies on plant biotechnology were implemented in the first place more than 10 years ago: It paved the way for the influx of imported GM crops from agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) like Monsanto. While plant biotechnology as a science has a lot of potential, current reality dictates that it is dominated by foreign TNCs that are using the technology not so much to aid food production as to make a profit by putting already impoverished farmers into further penury.

That is why we should be extra wary of any new policy on plant biotechnology: Will it truly be for the benefit of local S&T, consumers and farmers? Or will it only be used to further enrich and entrench agrochemical TNCs? If food security is what people in government really want to address, they should start with a genuine agrarian reform program that gives farmers economic stability and the capacity to use technology to improve their traditional farming methods.

—FENY COSICO, secretary general, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), [email protected]

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TAGS: department of agriculture, food security, genetic modification, GMO
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