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Scream of the crop

THIS early, almost everybody has tried to dissect the 2016 presidential election, how close the contest would be among the top four candidates and all that.

Well and good, except that the guys down here had yet to hear the “bright analysis” on what the elections would mean to the 8 million or so families without enough food to eat each day in this country that considered itself agricultural.

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That number was the estimate on “food poor” families here, based on a recent survey on “self-rated poverty” done by another publication.

Business organizations like the Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc., or Pafmi, had warned us about an “impending” food crisis coming from spikes in food prices.

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Alongside the dire forecast, the guys down here could still expect the continuous bombardment of news and updates, even in social media, about the supposed “danger” of so-called GM (genetically modified) crops, i.e. food.

From our end, all the screams from the anti-GM crops groups seemed to be connected to the move of the Aquino (Part II) administration to form new guidelines on GM crops.

The guidelines would have this unbearably long title: “Rules and Regulations for the Research and Development, Handling and Use, Transboundary Movement, Release into the Environment, and Management of Plant and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology.”

Still, the guidelines could be the only logical response of the administration to the Supreme Court ruling in December that cancelled the 14-year-old rules on GM crops.

The reason went like this: If the old rules were wrong, then the administration should correct them.

The rules were laid down in Administrative Order 8-2002, allowing the importation of GM crops such as soybeans which are used for making animal feeds.

By scrapping the 14-year old rules, the Supreme Court thus also imposed an outright ban on the importation of GM crops.

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The ban would be enforced until after the Aquino (Part II) administration would have come up with new rules.

Overseeing the formulation of rules for the past three months was the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines, or NCBP.

With the recent spate of attacks against GM crops, the NCBP also came under fire from some supposedly environmentalist groups.

For instance, they assailed the NCBP for its supposed abject unforgivable failure to provide “advanced” copies of the draft guidelines in all the public hearings.

Never mind that the “draft” could be easily downloaded from the NCBP website or those of the other departments involved with the new guidelines.

To those groups, the Aquino (Part II) administration was simply railroading the new rules supposedly with evil design.

Let us say it was true: Even just this once, at least before our leader, Benigno Simeon, ends his term in a few months, his boys really wanted to do their jobs. What on earth could be wrong with that?

Even environmentalist groups believed the administration wanted to come up with the rules asap, to avoid the certain disruption in the importation of GMO crops.

Chief among those crops was soybean meal, which this country has been using to make animal feeds, importing every year some 2 million tons of it.

One media report said that, because our stocks of soybean meal would soon run out, the administration wanted to hurry up the new rules, only to serve the interest of the importers.

It should follow that the small-time guys raising hogs and chickens and tilapia would not benefit from a steady supply of feeds—was that it?

There—the overused line that the government always took the side of business—and not the small chicken raiser or even the consumers!

It did not matter that the importation would mean cheap GM crops for lower priced animal feeds for the use of small time poultry raisers to benefit the consumers. But what could we make of the claims that all GM crops were so bad they actually came from the devil.

In short, it was as if humans would be the next to die!

The anti-GM-crop campaign forgot to include in its media blitz obligatory scientific studies to support the claims.

Not too long ago, an international scientific publication retracted an article written by one French professor, Gilles Eric Seralini, an anti-biotechnology advocate.

He came out with a study, supposedly showing that GM corn caused tumor among laboratory mice.

Other scientists questioned his methodology, since he used certain species of rats that were known to be prone to developing tumor—with or without the GM corn.

He also prohibited media from checking his “findings” with other scientists prior to his holding the press conference to announce the study to the world.

Other scientists viewed such a demand simply as a shameless PR stunt.

Also, British journalist and environmentalist Mark Lynas reportedly made a 180-degree turn, from being an avid anti-GM crop campaigner for two decades, to a pro-GM crop campaigner.

These were his exact words: “Most of the anti-GMO case is mythology, and does not stand up to scientific scrutiny.”

In 2013, Lynas admitted GM crops could be one of the technological options that could benefit the environment.

In the Philippines, the Institute of Plant Breeding in UP Los Baños has been conducting field trials on the so-called Bt eggplant, which could produce the protein to fight fruit and stem borer, which in turn was the most destructive eggplant pest.

Scientists described the variety as “pro-people” and “pro-environment,” as it could increase the yield of the farmers, thus improving their incomes.

Huh, and the new rules would not help farmers, because the Aquino (Part II) administration was trying to finish them as soon as possible?

Even the World Health Organization did not close the door on GM crops, declaring in its website that “GM foods available in the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks to human health.

“No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in countries where they have been approved.”

One estimate put at more than 2,000 the number of studies documenting that biotechnology did not pose unusual threat to human health.

Still, doubts continued to arise, perhaps fueled by all sorts of media outbursts of those screaming environmentalist groups.

The new rules  being formulated by the NBCP contained provisions for continuous studies—i.e. scientific research and experiments—on GM crops.

The commission could not simply shut down everything that had anything to do with GM products, just because of the noise from certain environmentalists groups.

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TAGS: Business, economy, elections 2016, News, Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc
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