Activists call on agri chief to stop GMO field trials

HUNDREDS of consumer activists bombarded the Department of Agriculture (DA) today with messages telling the government agency to stop the field trials of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

The activists sent thousands of texts, calls, tweets, FB messages and faxes addressed to Secretary Proceso Alcala requesting for a meeting about his stand on GMOs and its implications on his Organic Agriculture Policy.

“This is a call for transparency and accountability.  We are asking Sec. Alcala to be clear and decisive regarding his position on GMOs,” said Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“GMOs are harmful to human health and the environment, and blatantly contradict organic and ecological agriculture.  Sec. Alcala should take a firmer stand and champion agriculture that is pro-people and pro-environment,” Ocampo said.

In the past months, various NGOs, including famers’ and scientists’ groups, have called on the DA to stop field trials and environmental releases of GMOs.  Yet, the DA, under Sec. Alcala’s stewardship, has failed to commit to measures that will ensure the further invasion of GMOs into Philippine food and agriculture.

In addition, despite heavy opposition to field testing of the GMO Bt eggplant, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA mandated to regulate GMOs, has actually extended the Biosafety Permits for this risky crop.  In investigations, Greenpeace learned that the BPI minimized the standard requirements for field testing by allowing the use of ‘pollen trap plants’ instead of covering the field tests of Bt eggplant with fine mesh nets, as per standard regulation.

Independent studies have shown that planting GMOs into open fields is a serious environmental problem that presents long-term irreversible impacts on biodiversity and also presents significant negative impacts to human health.  However, despite these scientific uncertainties, the Philippine government has not rejected a single GMO application since 2002, approving, to date, a total of 67 varieties.

Last April 26, Greenpeace filed a petition for a Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus at the Supreme Court seeking legal remedy to the flawed regulatory system that has allowed the unhampered proliferation of dangerous GMOs in the country.  The court granted the Writ of Kalikasan last May 11.  This initial decision against GMO Bt eggplant field trials makes it possible for common people to protect their rights to safe food and a healthy environment through the court’s intervention.

More importantly, the decision has highlighted the country’s flawed regulatory system which is biased toward GMO approvals rather than public interest and which does not provide for adequate public participation and consultation, and does not ensure that thorough and independent risk assessments are in place.

“It’s time for Filipinos to demand a clear policy from the DA that supports ecological agriculture.  Safety concerns on GMOs are still unanswered, and the risks are even more disturbing given the Philippines’ very lax and permissive GMO regulatory system.  The DA would do well to categorically ban all GMO field trials.  Only by halting the further entry and approvals of GMOs can the DA achieve its goal of food security and sustainable agriculture in the country,” said Ocampo.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

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