Science-based solutions pushed

WITH a focus on genome editing technologies in crops, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) led a webinar earlier this month through its SEARCA Online Learning and Virtual Engagement (Solve).

Titled "Solve Public Info-sufficiency on Genome-edited Crops," the webinar is part of SEARCA's Biotech Outreach Program that provides a venue for knowledge sharing and learning with different stakeholders, and to contribute to improved understanding and acceptance of biotechnology in the country.

In conducting the webinar, SEARCA teamed up with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service, United States Embassy Manila and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (Isaaa).

For almost five years, the USDA, together with SEARCA, Isaaa and its strong network of partners, have been leading and organizing the annual Biotech Outreach Program.

According to Dr. Glenn Gregorio, director of SEARCA, this year's webinar was attended by more than a hundred participants via Zoom with majority of the attendees coming from the Philippines. Participants from Myanmar, Japan, Timor-Leste and Indonesia also joined the discussions.

"Gene editing is just one technology that can be used to improve farm productivity and mitigate the effects of climate change," said Dr. Carl Ramage, managing director of Rautaki Solutions Inc. and chairman of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of La Trobe University, Australia, in the virtual forum.

During the webinar, Ramage and Dr. Saturnina Halos, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines president, presented the global and local perspectives on genome editing technologies and biosafety regulations, respectively.

Ramage shared several examples of genome editing regulatory approaches implemented in countries, such as Argentina and the United States, and noted that the commercialization of gene-edited products depends on a clear pathway to market; an effective value capture model; and clear and harmonized regulatory requirements.

"We should not fear new technology. We should keep asking scientists and the government questions to ensure that we maintain the safety of the food that we eat and produce," Ramage said, urging participants to "be part of the discussion, take an open mind, listen and contribute."

Halos, who talked about the opportunities and constraints of genome editing in the Philippines, said the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines has ruled that gene-edited crops will not be regulated under the existing guidelines covering genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"We should not stop exploring new methods of improving agriculture because we are in a different situation today than we are a hundred years ago. For instance, climate change is affecting everything," she said.

"We should be open to new technologies that could help us. We must be aware that these products can cause damage, thus, there are regulations put in place. We've had GMOs for more than 20 years and because of the science-based biosafety regulations, they have been proven to be safe for humans and the environment," said Halos, affirming and concurring with Ramage's views.