Roberto Verzola provides the latest in GM Watch's REVIEW OF THE YEAR series, focusing on what's been happening in the Philippines.
And it couldn't be more to the point on a day full of ISAAA-inspired media reports about how developing world farmers can't get enough GM seed.
The ISAAA have focused particularly on the Philippines and have even had the much-used Philippines farmer, Edwin Paraluman, join ISAAA's founder and Chairman, Clive James on a conference call with reporters yesterday to tell the media all about the benefits to the small farmer of growing GM.
The report claims that a massive expansion in acreage for Monsanto's Bt corn has occurred in the country, but Roberto Verzola in the Philippines explains how that expansion has actually been achieved:
"The Mon810 Bt corn is distributed in the Philippines without proper labels, under the brand name DK818YG. Farmers are seldom informed that the seeds they are getting are genetically-engineered, or that these are the controversial Bt corn which had been the subject of controversies in the media and public debates. Often, it is the government which buys from Monsanto or its distributors the Bt corn seeds, which are then given for free or at subsidized prices to unsuspecting farmers. Thus, it is only through stealth, deception and the complicity of government technicians, agriculturists and policy-makers that Monsanto has managed to increase the hectarage of Bt corn in the Philippines, at the expense of the Filipino tax payer at that."
The GE Debate in the Philippines: An Update
By Roberto Verzola
Using the foothold that the genetic engineering industry established in the Philippines when got government approval to commercialize the Mon810 Bt corn in 2003, they continued in 2004 to expand this foothold by increasing the hectarage of Bt corn to more than 10,000 hectares, and by preparing for the commercialization of more GE crops.
The Mon810 Bt corn is distributed in the Philippines without proper labels, under the brand name DK818YG. Farmers are seldom informed that the seeds they are getting are genetically-engineered, or that these are the controversial Bt corn which had been the subject of controversies in the media and public debates. Often, it is the government which buys from Monsanto or its distributors the Bt corn seeds, which are then given for free or at subsidized prices to unsuspecting farmers. Thus, it is only through stealth, deception and the complicity of government technicians, agriculturists and policy-makers that Monsanto has managed to increase the hectarage of Bt corn in the Philippines, at the expense of the Filipino tax payer at that.
The harvested Bt corn are then sold as feed or food, also without proper labels, in effect force-feeding Filipinos with the controversial GE crop. As a result of the nationwide distribution of Bt corn among farmers, we can assume that the contamination of local varieties, particularly open-pollinated varieties whose seeds farmers save for the next planting season, has begun. The government has made no effort at all to determine the extent of this contamination.
The creeping contamination of local corn varieties is of serious concern because of at least two reports of immunological reactions among farmers in southern Philippines living beside Bt corn fields, possibly due to exposure to the Bt corn pollen. We are all awaiting expectantly the final results of the scientific study by Dr. Terje Traavik of the Institute of Gene Ecology of Norway regarding this matter.
The next GE crops in the pipeline for commercialization are rice and papaya. The government has been conducting field trials of BB-resistant rice and Golden Rice. Government researchers have likewise publicly expressed their commitment to release a commercial ring spot virus-resistant GE papaya "within three years".
The GE industry lobby group in the Philippines is the Biotech Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), whose work is funded by ISAAA which in turn gets its funds from the industry. BCP includes multi-facial GE lobbyists who sometimes wear government hats, scientist hats, or NGO hats, as the situation demands. It even includes a bishop and a priest among its stable of speakers. BCP has been most aggressive in conducting a campaign among government legislators and the public on the benefits of genetic engineering.
The GE industry campaign in the Philippines is part of wider campaign by the agrochemical industry to force a shift in farmers' practice towards the use of hybrids and herbicides.
Among Filipino farmers today, the use of inbred or open-pollinated varieties remains a widespread practice. Farmers obviously want to retain control over their seeds, by selecting and saving the best portion of their harvest for the next seasons seeds. Multinational seed companies are conspiring with governments to wrench control over seeds by by seducing farmers with the "benefits" of F1 hybrid varieties. These hybrids do not breed true, and farmers must therefore buy seed every planting season. Commercial GE seeds, which are likewise mostly hybrids, are part of this long-term strategy by multinational seed companies to control the seed industry and therefore our food supply.
The other side of the multinational strategy is to get farmers to rely on herbicides, which offer lower labor costs, but in reality force on farmers the paradigm of monoculture and chemical farming. Herbicide-based farming induces farmers to treat other plants as "weeds" instead of secondary crops, green manure or soil cover. It also kills or harms pest predators and parasites as well as nutrient-giving soil organisms, forcing farmers to rely more on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Herbicide-based farming is intended to extend the life of chemical farming, which has been widely criticized for its harmful effects on farmers' livelihood and health, as well as the health of the consumer and the environment.
The anti-GE campaign in the Philippines is therefore closely related to the movement for organic farming and sustainable agriculture, and to the farmers' movement to regain control over their seeds, their soils, and other farm inputs.
At the forefront of the campaign are farmers groups like Pabinhi, a network of farmers and supportive academics and researchers for sustainable agriculture, organic farming and farmer-selected seeds. Also in the forefront are some enlightened local governments, such as the provincial government of Bohol in central Philippines, which are embracing organic farming and declaring a GE-free policy in agriculture.
Anti-GE advocates in the Philippines have strongly pushed for a sustainable approach to farming and have discovered an approach called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Through a simple set of seedling, soil and water management and without requiring special seeds or expensive inputs, SRI increases rice farmers' yields and incomes significantly. In the Philippines, the SRI average is around double the national average yield. This shows that much of the yield potential in rice, and possibly even other crops, remain untapped; that such potential can be realized through natural, organic and certainly non-GE approaches. Through the efforts of the Philippine SRI network, rice farmers have become aware and are now increasingly adopting SRI for rice production, pulling the rug under the arguments of GE and hybrid rice advocates.
As SRI and similar approaches take root among Filipino farmers, they will gradually realize that they can increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods better by rejecting the enticements of agrochemical/GE/seed firms and embracing instead the farmer-, consumer- and environment-friendly approaches of sustainable/organic agriculture.
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