SEARCA backs Golden Rice amid calls to void permit

THE Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) has thrown its support behind Golden Rice (GR2E) amid calls by certain sectors to revoke the genetically modified organism's (GMO) biosafety permit.

In a statement on Monday, ASEAN's farm research center said it is also boosting support for the country's biotechnology regulations and policies by opening a program to expand knowledge on biotechnology, particularly GMOs and regulations, for stakeholders, especially policy-makers.

"We stand behind products of agribiotechnology that increase agricultural productivity to feed a growing population in the midst of dwindling natural resources and erratic changes in climate," SEARCA Director and National Academician Glenn B. Gregorio said.

"Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that give them a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges they face and to open up better opportunities for them and their families so that they can have better quality lives," Gregorio added.

Despite safety questions on these biotechnology products, SEARCA said "it is important to harness the full potential of agri-biotechnology through effective communication and science-based regulatory frameworks."

SEARCA's statement came a week after environmental group Greenpeace urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to revoke the biosafety permit for food, feed and processing (FFP) use of GR2E.

In a statement on Christmas Eve, Greenpeace said it "believes" that the approval of the GR2E's FFP biosafety permit is "unwarranted" due to "incomplete data submitted by proponents" and "lack of transparency and adequate public participation."

Greenpeace added that it submitted a formal appeal on December 23 to Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar, urging him to revoke the biosafety permit issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry, an attached agency of the DA.

SEARCA said it partnered with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (Isaaa), the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre, and Monash University for its program called "Second Asian Course on Agribiotechnology."

The program, Isaaa Global Coordinator Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan said, would provide
Asian stakeholders with "updated information and hands-on experience on agribiotechnology, exercises on food/feed safety assessment, and tips on strategic communication, and risk management and communication."

"This year's Asian Short Course on Agribiotechnology gathers 25 participants from both public and private sectors of eight countries. These are China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam," SEARCA said. The program focuses on Agribiotechnology, Biotechnology Regulation and Communication.