Farmers, environmentalists urge ban on GMOs (26/8/2005)

EXCERPT: "GMOs are costly experiments on our people and our environment and bury our farmers in debts while providing more profits to companies like Monsanto."

Farmers, environmentalists urge ban on GMOs
By Allen V. Estabillo
MindaNews (Philippines), 25 August 2005

GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Local farmers and environmental groups renewed their calls to immediately ban entry and planting of genetically-engineered (GE) crops in the country in the wake of the recent government approval to commercialize a new transgenic corn variety.

Eliezer Billanes, secretary general of the Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Timug Kutabato, warned that the looming entry into the market of Monstanto's "stacked-trait corn" would further expose the area's farms and residents to various toxins reportedly embedded in the GE corn variety.

"It's high time for Congress to intervene on this matter by passing a law that would ban these products," he told MindaNews in a phone interview.

Billanes said that House Bill 2124, or the proposed GMO (Genetically-Modified Organism)-free Food and Agriculture Act of 2004, was gathering dust at a committee in the House of Representatives.

Billanes said they have been gathering signatures to support the passage of HB 2124 "which will ultimately make our country as GMO-free." The proposed measure, filed by Anakpawis partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano, prohibits the entry, sale, field testing, and release of crops and food containing GMOs.

The bill cited that "there have been many cases discovered which should tell us that genetically modified products could seriously harm human beings and the environment."

"The threat from genetically-engineered crops and food products is rising in the Philippines. A number of food products sold in our supermarkets and groceries have been found to contain GMOs," the bill said.

The Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry approved earlier this month the commercial distribution and planting of the "dekalb-stacked hybrid" corn, a GE product which could resist both herbicides and the Asiatic corn borer.

According to a report from the University of the Philippines Los Banos-based Biotechnology Information Center (BIC), the new hybrid corn seed is practically a combination of the controversial Bacillus thuringiesis (Bt) corn and the Roundup-Ready corn, which underwent several field tests here and the neighboring areas.

Bt corn was approved for planting in the country in late 2002 while Roundup Ready corn was introduced in the markets earlier this year. Environmental group Greenpeace the government's approval of the new GE corn variety saying "the government has failed to protect Filipinos from the onslaught of genetically modified organisms and agro-chemical companies which promote it.

"The Arroyo government is intent on punishing Filipino farmers and our environment at the behest of multinational agro-chemical companies which only care for profits," said Greenpeace's GE campaigner Danny Ocampo said in a statement e-mailed to MindaNews.

Ocampo said the new GE corn would threaten the food chain with contamination and lead to further degradation of soil quality. He said it also meant "twice the profits" for Monsanto, which owns the patent to "stacked-trait corn" and the glyphosate Roundup Ready herbicide.

In June, Greenpeace launched the report "The Economics of Bt Corn: Whose Interest Does It Really Serve?" which showed evidence that Bt corn, contrary to claims by Monsanto, was a financial burden to Filipino farmers because they have to pay more for seeds and fertilizers.

"GMOs are costly experiments on our people and our environment and bury our farmers in debts while providing more profits to companies like Monsanto," Ocampo added.

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