Hunger strikers have new evidence against transgenic corn (13/5/2003)

13 May 2003

Hunger strikers have new evidence against transgenic corn


Hunger strikers: We have new evidence against transgenic corn

Farmers and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) protesting against the commercial release of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn in the country Monday said they will be presenting new evidence against the genetically modified crop in their protest action today in Malacañang.

Mark Cervantes, a hunger striker and public-information officer of the Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education (SEARICE), said that his group, together with members of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), are holding on to the new evidence that the protesters will be submitting to President Arroyo.

"Even if the President refuses to conduct a dialogue with us, we will pursue with this planned mass action in Malacañang," Cervantes said.

Meanwhile, probiotechnology scientists are challenging environmental activists to come up with a study or evidence showing that the approval of the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as Bt corn is flawed and that it has negative effects on health and the environment. Now on its 22nd day, the hunger strike is demanding that the Department of Agriculture order a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt corn in the country.

Hunger strikers, led by Philippine Greens secretary-general Roberto Verzola, said that Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. has not yet come up with a response to their demand.

Lorenzo admitted that the department has not yet drawn up its conclusions on the study he ordered conducted regarding the commercial release of Bt corn. He said that the farmers should instead write to the department's Bureau of Plant Industry a petition asking for a review of the process of approval of Bt corn's commercialization.

Verzola said the protesters are getting tired of the agriculture department' s neglect of the issue, which made them decide to elevate their concerns to Malacañang.

Besides asking Mrs. Arroyo to order a thorough investigation of the review and approval process for Bt corn, the protesters are also urging the President to conduct a nationwide campaign to ask farmers not to plant Bt corn yet, or if they have done so, to uproot the plants immediately.

Nilo de la Cruz, an official of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), said hunger striker Luisita Esmao, also of PAKISAMA, is still confined at the Lung Center of the Philippines. "Her condition is continuously improving although the doctor has not yet advised her release from the hospital. She even expressed her intention to join the protest action at Malacañang today," he added.

Esmao, a mainstay in the hunger striker since April 22, was rushed at the East Avenue Medical Center after she complained of weakness Friday night. She was later transferred at the Lung Center.

De la Cruz said that even if a number of hunger strikers pull out to take a rest, a new batch takes over every now and then.

NGOs, led by Greenpeace, alleged, "Once released into the environment, damage caused by the GMO products, such the case of Bt corn, will be irreversible. "There are also many unresolved issues and there is no scientific consensus yet that guarantees its safety." Greenpeace argued. Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace genetic-engineering campaigner, said that the fundamental basis of genetic engineering is invalid and that this gives rise to unexpected and unpredictable effects rendering any risk assessment unsound and irrelevant.  "The irreversible release of genetically engineered organisms to the environment has potential to cause serious harm," she warned.

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