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Bacolod City, PhilippinesTuesday, June 23, 2009
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Philsurin – review
GMO ordinance

Rolly Espina

The Philippine Sugar Research Institute last weekend asked the provincial government to suspend the ban on GMO pending further in-depth study and evaluation of the effects of Provincial Ordinance No. 007. Series of 2007, on the province’s mono-crop economy.

Actually, the Confederation of Sugar Producers Inc. warned that the continued application of the ban will adversely affect the productivity of the sugar industry and stall efforts to improve sugar production and profitability.

Reynaldo Bantug, Confed Panay-Negros chapter, stressed to the sugar industry is the lifeblood of the Provincial economy and that preventing its improvement will not only affect the industry itself but also peril the livelihood of thousands of sugar workers who depend on it.

Jose Ma. Montinola, Victorias Milling Farmer’s Cooperative Inc., and secretary of the Confed regional charter, also wrote Negros Occidental Governor Isidro Zayco pointing out that the provincial policy contravenes the national policy aside from posing a threat to the provincial economy.

Montinola was supported by VIMACA 2 Planters Association, Inc. president Aurelio Valderrama and Victorias Mill District MDDC chair person Nemesio de la Cruz in pointing out that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had issued on July 16, 2001 the National Policy on Modern Biotechnology.

They pointed out that the Philsurin studies on higher-yielding varieties of sugarcane will have to stop because of the GMO ban. And when that happens, the sugar industry in Negros will be in danger of collapsing, they stressed.

Bantug termed the provincial ordinance as a “noble act with noble intentions” but also stressed the need to review it thoroughly and adequately and with more scientific studies. Otherwise, he said, lack of an in-depth study and evaluation on the effects of GMOs’ on consumers will stifle the sugar industry.

Dr. Cu, Philsurin deputy director, said the implementation of PO-007 will mean that the sugar research agency will have to suspend a biotechnology tool that made our breeding program efficient and productive. He added that the technology is funded by the Common Funds for Commodities of the United Nations.

He also stressed that Philsurin has a variety of exchange agreements with Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, France, the US, and Mauritius and Malaysia that will research and introduce genetically modified varieties that will have disease resistant genes or varieties that can  produce higher sugar or alcohol yields.

Thus, under the provincial ordinance, Philsurin will be prohibited from importing the new variety of sugarcane for Negros as parent material for the breeding and variety improvement program.

In short, a complete ban on genetically-modified agri-products, it was pointed out, could also stop further Philsurin researches on GMO varieties. And, that threatens the local sugar industry’s survival by also disallowing the entry here even if only for scientific research or testing of modern genetically modified organisms.

Thus, this could spell disaster for the sugar industry particularly since other scientifically researched sugar nations like Australia are now embarking on field-testing that latest sugarcane HYV’s with triple or quadruple productions as those of the Philippines.

By that time, the Philippine sugar industry shall have been banished into the dust bin, its production cost remaining high and prices uncompetitive.

These are just some of the arguments why the Sangguniang Panglunsod should not just listen to one side of the coin but temporarily withhold implementation of the provincial ordinance pending further studies of what it could mean for the province and Negrenses. Besides, as already mentioned, efforts must be exerted to see to it that the provincial ordinance harmonizes with the national policy.

That’s not a very “white or black” decision that has to be made. It is just a rational suspension of the ordinance until it can be refined and the complexities and complications thoroughly studied.

I think even Gov. Isidro Zayco, himself, will see the wisdom of such a move.*



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