Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DA says GMO products are scientifically proven safe

Cebu, Philippines (1 October) -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) says that genetically modified (GM) products have been scientifically proven to be safe to the consumers and to the environment contrary to fears raised by some environmentalists.

Dr. Saturnina Halos, chief of the DA-Biotech Advisory Team (DA-BAT) assured the consumers that all GMOs that are approved for commercial release whether for food, feed or processing are safe and do not pose health risks to both the consumers and the environment

Halos explained that all GM products were subjected to a rigorous science-based safety assessment and the most stringent biosafety regulations by competent authorities and experts to make sure that they are safe and do not have harmful effects to the users and the environment.

Halos added that all GMO applications have to pass through a wringer comprised of several layers of assessments from independent scientists, all of whom are accorded the time to check on the organisms, report their findings and subject the GM products to repeated tests for toxicity and impact on indigenous plants and animals.

Apart from the safety assessment by experts from the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and other regulatory agencies of the DA, the Scientific Technical Review Panel (STRP), an independent scientific body, also evaluates the GMO applications, the DA-BAT said.

She also noted that safety protocol followed by the Philippines competes with the system operating in the European Union (EU), which has the strictest scientific regulations as far as GMOs are concerned.

To prove her claim, Halos said none of the 44 GMO products approved by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) since December 2002 has caused any ailment among the farmers who planted them and the people who consumed them. The first GMO to be approved for commercial release in the Philippines in December 2002 was the pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, which is now cultivated all over the country.

"All 44 GMO applications approved for commercial release in the Philippines have undergone careful review by other scientific bodies and equally competent authorities. They are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts," Halos said.

Halos added that aside from the safety assessment by experts from the BPI and the STRP, the process of approval calls for public consultations, from the initial evaluation of the technology to the testing in greenhouses, then in individual field tests and then to testing in multiple sites.

She concluded that before GMOs are released for field applications and finally to the market, the GMOs had undergone a very tedious process of public consultations, meetings with various stakeholders and careful evaluation of issues and concerns, thus farmers, consumers, medical practitioners and critics are accorded the opportunity to check on the GMOs.

As these developed, the country is pushing for international guidelines in bio-tech trade that will govern the import and export of Genetically Modified (GM) products.

Jennifer Ng in her article at the Business Mirror wrote that Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is currently meeting and in the middle of discussion in Chiba, Japan on the proposed guidelines that will govern international bio-tech trade.

Dr. Emelea Cao, director of the National Sciences Research Institute at the University of the Philippines is the country's representative to the Codex ad hoc inter-government task force on foods derived from biotechnology and she has been active in giving inputs to the CAC.

"We are very active in giving our inputs because we want to make sure that the country would be able to maximize the benefits from biotechnology trade in the future," Cao said.

According to Cao, the Codex guidelines will govern testing procedures, safety protocols and tolerance levels in place to prevent the occurrence of 'illegal events or contamination."

While the implementation of the proposed guidelines is voluntary, Cao said the guidelines will be a good reference point especially for countries that are keen on importing biotechnology products.

Paul Green, a consultant with the International Grain Trade Coalition, earlier said guidelines that will govern the international trade of GM products would help prevent food shortages caused by a number of factors, such as the rise in demand for biofuels, Ng wrote. (PIA-Cebu/MBCN)

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