More protests against Monsanto in the Philippines (28/5/2004)

More protests against Monsanto in the Philippines
Anti-Bt corn advocates "convict" Monsanto
Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews/27 May 2004

KORONADAL CITY -- Some 1,000 members of militant groups staged a protest rally Thursday outside the plant of seed giant Monsanto Phils. in General Santos City where they held a mock trial and judged the firm "guilty" for promoting the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn which they claimed is hazardous to humans and the environment.

Eliezer Billanes, chair of the South Cotabato Movement Against Genetically Modified Organisms (SCMAGMO), said members of militant organizations from as far as North Cotabato and Davao del Sur joined the indignation rally.

Monsanto was found "guilty" for allegedly causing illnesses to humans and poisoning the environment, he added.

"Monsanto should stop the commercial distribution of Bt corn. We are convinced that Bt corn has ill effects to humans and the environment," he said in a telephone interview.

Among those who joined the protest action were Bayan Muna, Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, Anak Pawis, Gabriela, Suara Bangsamoro and representatives from the local Catholic Church. The Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) spearheaded the protest action.

In December 2002, the Philippine government, through the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry, approved Monsanto's application for the commercialization of Bt corn.

As a result of the approval, anti-Bt corn advocates launched several protest actions, highlighted last year by a hunger strike headed by Roberto Versola, a prominent critic of the transgenic crop, in front of the DA main office in Metro Manila.

Likewise, before the approval for the crop's commercialization was granted to Monsanto, disgusted militant farmers stormed and uprooted on Aug. 29, 2001 Monsanto's Bt corn field test site in barangay Maltana in Tampakan, South Cotabato. The crop was about to be harvested at that time.

Despite the protests, Monsanto officials have repeatedly assured that Bt corn has no ill effects on human health and the environment.

"This approval in the Philippines demonstrates that both farmers and government regulators recognize the safety and benefits of plant biotechnology, which is why use of these technologies continues to expand throughout the world," said Robb Fraley, chief technology officer of Monsanto.

"This acceptance is driven by the overwhelming benefits of biotechnology, such as significant reduction in pesticide use," he added.

According to Monsanto, the YieldGard 818 Corn Borer was the first biotech crop to be approved for commercial planting in the Philippines, and is one of the first biotech food crops to be approved for planting in Asia.

Company officials said several other Asian countries including Japan, Korea,Taiwan and Australia have reviewed the safety of a number biotech crops and granted import approvals.

They also said the approval for commercialization by the agriculture department was based in part on local field trial results that demonstrated significant increases in yield and a reduced need for insecticide applications, which will potentially increase farmers' incomes.

Early this year, a Norwegian scientist, Terje Traavik, scientific director of the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, claimed that traces of Bt toxin were found in the blood samples of residents living near a Bt corn field in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

 Traavik, however, stressed that it is difficult to conclude whether the traces of Bt toxin found on the blood samples were a result of the individuals' exposure to the Bt cornfield in sitio Kalyong, barangay Landan in Polomolok town.

Local Monsanto officials had brushed aside the findings of Traavik and recommended an independent study about the matter.

"We really don't know how they were able to determine such findings. I think it's a biased result considering that they came from those opposing our product," Francisco Camacho, Monsanto's technology development executive based in General Santos City, said.

He said the credibility of findings should be substantiated especially the process of taking the blood samples. "We have to make sure that the samples were taken properly and that the process of the analysis was based on accepted scientific standards," he said.

Camacho also said the alleged infection of Landan residents by the Bt corn plants was the only report they received from hundreds of sites planted with the crop in this city and nearby South Cotabato.

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