Genetically engineered crops benefit SEA farmers

SOUTHEAST Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Director Glenn Gregorio said that genetically engineered crops have been benefiting southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines.

In a forum on Philippine Biotech Regulations, Gregorio said 630,000 hectares of farmlands in Southeast Asia are now planted with Bt Corn with $729 million economic benefits.

"The Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia to implement regulatory framework on the genetically engineered crops. In 2003, the Philippines also became the first Southeast Asian country to commercialize and plant a biotech crop which is Bt Corn. Since then its adoption rate has reached almost 100 percent, its 97 percent and has covered more than half a million hectares, now its 630,000 hectares and it has led to an estimate farm level economic benefits $720 million," he said.

"In addition to Bt Corn, we now have Bt Talong and excitingly we have the Golden Rice already. They are harvesting Golden Rice for distribution, and it is approved for commercial cultivation. These and other biotech crops in the pipelines can potentially contribute to attaining food and nutrition security, improving farmers' income, health and economy, and ensuring environment protection," Gregorio added.

Gregorio assured that the country will not have access on the genetically engineered crops without a sound science-based regulatory framework that ensures that these products are effective, beneficial, and safe.

"Updates were recently made in biotech related policies to respond to the challenges faced in this implementation. It also considered advances in molecular biology and genetic engineering techniques and the implementation of the ease in doing business law. This last component is very important. It is not all science. We really need business law and legal law on this part," he added.

Earlier, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) granted the Biosafety Permit for the commercial propagation of borer-resistant Bt Eggplant (Event EE-1) to the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) pursuant to the Joint Circular Order Number 1 issued by the Department of Science and Technology, DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, and the Department Interior and Local Government.

UPLB College of Agriculture and Food Science Institute of Plant Breeding Project Development Officer John Albert Caraan said the regulatory approval came after strict and comprehensive biosafety evaluations conducted by the joint assessment group from the Competent National Authorities-Biosafety Committees, and the certification of the Event EE-1 as a plant incorporated protectant by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority.

"Prior to this approval for commercial propagation, the DA-BPI also approved Bt eggplant for direct use as food, feed, or for processing on July 21, 2021, affirming its safety for consumption," Caraan said.

He added that Bt eggplant contains a natural protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, making it resistant to the crop's most devastating insect pest, the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB).

"This Bt protein is highly specific to EFSB larvae and is safe for humans, animals, and other non-target arthropods," Caraan added.