FAO awardee nixes GMO crops (1/3/2004)

FAO awardee nixes GMO crops
Mindanao Times (Philipinnes), Monday March 1, 2004

TAMPAKAN, South Cotabato (MindaNews) - A former nun adjudged last year as the 'Best Female Farmer' by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has strongly called on consumers to shun food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Virginia Muniño, who left the convent of the Oblates of Notre Dame in 1994, said that food products modified genetically poses risk to human health and the environment.

No one has the right to tinker God?s creation whether they are plants or animals. Disturbing the natural genetic structure [of plants and animals] may result to health and environment catastrophe, she told MindaNews.

Muniño was recognized as the 2003 Best Female Farmer for transforming her two-hectare farm into a teeming enterprise using the organic farming method. She received the FAO award from Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand last Oct. 16.

The FAO is an organization whose specific priority is encouraging sustainable agriculture and rural development, a long-term strategy for increasing food production and food security while conserving and managing natural resources.

Fondly called Virgie, the 55-year-old former nun discourages the public in patronizing GMO products, particularly the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn that was approved for commercial distribution by the Arroyo government in late 2002.

With regards to Bt corn, there's still no worldwide scientific consensus that it's safe for human consumption as well as its impact to the environment, she said.

In October 2003, at least 100 residents of a far-flung village in Polomolok town, South Cotabato complained of various illnesses that were allegedly brought about by the presence in their area of the Bt corn, a variety designed to repel corn borers without the use of pesticides.

Results, however, of the tests conducted on the affected villagers have yet to be released but unconfirmed reports circulating here over the weekend said that samples taken by a foreign mission show that Bt toxins were allegedly found on the specimens of those tested.

Instead of growing GMO crops, Muniño urges farmers to resort to organic farming, saying that the traditional method is safe to the human health and poses no risk to the environment.

Not only that. Organic farming method is also less costly compared with the inorganic method, which usually requires expensive chemical pesticides and fertilizers, Muniño stressed.

Her two-hectare farm in barangay Sta. Cruz here boosts of fruit-bearing trees like rambutan, durian, lanzones, mangosteen, bananas, mango, guyabano and marang.

These fruit-bearing trees are planted in between mature coconut trees. In the open fields of the farm, corns are also raised, the staple food of the household of Muniño, who confessed to being a corn, rather than rice, eater.

Vegetable gardens are also neatly arranged in various parts of her two-hectare farm. Among the vegetables she sells in bulk come harvest time are string beans, pechay, radish, carrots, garlic, bulb onion and ginger.

Apart from the plant varieties, Muniño is also engaged in livestock farming. Just at the back of her house are a small piggery, a tilapia fishpond, and chicken quarters. Several meters from her house is a wire-fenced stable for goats. She also owns a cow.

Muniño said she does not utilize chemical fertilizers and pesticides in growing the crops in her farm because it poses danger to human health and the environment.

'Basically on my part, my body reacts adversely if ever I eat foods grown using chemicals. For me the safest foods are still the product of natural organic farming methods,' said Muniño, who added that all her daily foods are basically taken within the farm.

But she also admitted buying commercial foods from the market in 'very scarce circumstances,' like when she hosts a gathering of people in her farm.

Muniño said that instead of using chemical pesticides, she uses natural pesticides she herself produces.  'I would crush the leaves and barks of madre de cacao then mix it with siling labuyo (red chilli pepper). After which I would strain the mixture in water then spray them on the plants. I've noticed it works well since the pests do not thrive in my plants,' she said.

Another technique she employs against pests is the plant known in the locality as baho-baho, a flowering plant whose petals are yellowish in color.  Muniño said the variety is a natural insect-repellant that can protect vegetables and other plants from unnecessary pests.

In nourishing her plants, instead of chemical fertilizers, the ex-nun said she utilizes organic fertilizers naturally made up of corn cobs, leaves, banana peelings and animal wastes and then lace them with whatever animal's blood.

She lamented that most Filipino farmers shun organic farming because of the meticulous work involved in the preparation of such method, unlike the chemical fertilizers that can easily be bought in agricultural stores.

To have a 'better farm yield,' Muniño urged farmers to resort to organic farming, saying that it can improve their production and that they can save the money they would otherwise spend for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)  


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