January 16, 2018, 11:17 pm
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Think-tank pushes biotechnology law

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) said it supports the passage of a biotechnology law that is stronger  than a memorandum circular or an administrative order from government agencies in order to achieve long-term food security amid climate threats and growing population.

“SEARCA has BIC (Biotechnology Information Center)…  its one-stop shop for biotechnology advocacy. We are in a position to support it (biotechnology law).  We will capitalize on SEARCA’s strength in policy research to address the problem,” said Gil Saguiguit Jr., the organization’s director.

 The academic think-tank wants a stronger policy to authorize planting and release of genetically modified and biotechnology crops like the Bt eggplant and gene-silenced non-browning potato. SEARCA, together with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), hosts BIC at its headquarters in Los Banos, Laguna.

 Saguiguit said the proposal has obtained the support of Sen.  Cynthia Villar of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food  who also advocates the Small Farmers Irrigation Act and agriculture insurance program as a strategy to aid farmers against climate change’s adverse effects.

 The group also cited pronouncements of   Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) director Vivencio Mamaril who said  party list congressmen have signified intention to file a bill in support of biotechnology crop farming.

 “Congressmen said we should submit the bill. Food safety is what concerns them more. The Philippines now has more than 800,000 hectares of corn planted to herbicide tolerant corn. We started with only 50,000 hectares in 2002. (Apparently) you can’t argue with success… Congress is much interested in it.  We also want to deal on issues on flexibility because the regulation today may not be able to cover needed regulation in five years,” Mamarin said.

SEARCA is pushing for a more permanent legislation to replace the Joint Department Circular (JDC) issued early in the  year by five government agencies in support to the research, management, and movement of biotechnology crops.

 Last year, the JDC authorizing biotechnology crops production was issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, Department of Interior and Local Government, and Department of Science and Technology.

 The circular provides for strict safety regulations on commercialization of biotechnology crops wherein a Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) was formed composed of scientists not employed by DA. 

Under the STRP, concerned agencies also submit recommendations to the BPI regarding biosafety concerns on biotechnology products. In turn, BPI is mandated to post a summary of the technical reports of the STRP on the websites of National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines as a form of public consultation.

 Also under the JDC, government agencies are tasked to tap international and local laboratories or institutes to ensure biosafety and carry out risk management in the use of biotechnology crops an has given the government with the initiative to arbitrate on tapping National Academy on Science and Technology as final authority in biosafety concerns. 

The JDC superseded DA’s Administrative Order No. 8 issued in 2002 as the governing policy on biotechnology crops.  The said order was nullified by the Supreme Court in December 2015 on the ground that it failed to put adequate safety standards.
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