Monday, December 11, 2017

Clive James and ISAAA: Top Sources of Info on Biotech in the Philippines



News writers often solicit supporting information about their stories from various sources through interviews or readily-available references. The “voices” behind the stories usually have an impact on how stories are told.

The study Seventeen Years of Media Reportage of Modern Biotechnology in the Philippines, published in the April 2017 issue of the Philippine Journal of Crop Science, reported that Dr. Clive James, the Founder and Emeritus Chair of ISAAA, is the top source of information on biotechnology by news writers. The study analyzed articles reporting on modern agri-biotechnology that were released in major Philippine newspapers including Manila Bulletin, Philippine Star, Philippine Daily Inquirer and Business Mirror (for 2010-2016 only).



The researchers listed the sources of information cited in each of the 2,219 articles on biotechnology released from 2000 to 2016. Each of the sources were categorized as government source, environmental group, international organization, R&D institution, private industry company, and others.



In the first 10 years of biotech reporting from 2000-2009, most of the sources of information were from government agencies/representatives (37%), followed by environmental groups (22%), and international organizations (16%). The second part of the study (2010-2016) revealed that government sources remained on top (37%), followed by international organizations (23%), and environmental groups (17%).




Though most of the sources were from the government, there were numerous personalities and agencies mentioned. For instance, in the last 7 years (2010-2016), there were about 547 different information sources cited and none of which were individually mentioned more than 33 times. 

The most frequently mentioned source during that time period of seven years was the world-renowned biotech expert, Dr. Clive James (33 times) and the organization he founded, ISAAA (31 times). The articles citing Dr. James and ISAAA usually quoted details from their annual report on global adoption of biotech crops. In 2016 alone, the ISAAA report titled 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 (ISAAA Brief 51) was mentioned in 2,843 articles worldwide including top news agencies such as USA Today, New YorkTimes, and  Financial Times, reaching 4.45 billion media impressions. Being the top source of information in the Philippine newspapers imply that several writers perceive that Dr. James and ISAAA are credible sources of information, particularly on biotech crop adoption and its benefits.



Daniel Ocampo, who used to work as Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, was mentioned 28 times in the articles. He was one of the activists that uprooted the Bt eggplant on field trial at the University of the Philippine Los Baños (UPLB) in 2011.



The top government officials quoted in the articles were Proceso Alcala (mentioned 26 times), who was the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary from 2010-2016; and Dr. Antonio Alfonso (mentioned 24 times), a plant scientist and Director of the DA Biotechnology Program Office from 2013 to 2015.






The other sources of information mentioned over 10 times from 2010 to 2016 were:

  • Candida Adalla, previous head of DA Biotechnology Program Office
  • Emil Q. Javier, National Academy of Science and Technology president, former UP president and UPLB chancellor
  • Roger Navarro, Philippine Maize Federation president
  • Randy A. Hautea, ISAAA Global Coordinator and Director of ISAAA SEAsiaCenter
  • World Health Organization
  • Chito Medina, Environmentalist and Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) National Coordinator
  • Clarito Baron, former director of Bureau of Plant Industry
  • Segfredo Serrano, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy
  • Desiree Hautea, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II Regional Coordinator and Product Development Manager
  • Gil C. Saguiguit, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Director
  • Greenpeace


Out of the top 16 sources of information, there were only three persons/groups that were categorized as belonging to environmental/civil society groups. Mostly were scientists and government officials.


Through the years, the prominent role of “authoritative voices” such as researchers and government representatives was demonstrated along with lesser use of technology critics as information sources. Apart from the government agencies and research institutions, international organizations such as ISAAA are now seen as credible sources of information on biotechnology because they promote themes that are more encompassing in nature such as “rural development, sustainable agriculture, food security.” They also usually portray a more balanced stance than the campaigns of private companies and environmental groups.

Written by Kristine Grace N. Tome, Program Associate at ISAAA.  

Sources: 
 
Tome, Kristine Grace N., Mariechel J. Navarro, Sophia M. Mercado, and Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena. 2017. Seventeen Years of Media Reportage of Modern Biotechnology in the Philippines. Philippine Journal of Crop Science 42(1): 26-35.


ISAAA. 2017. From Fear to Facts: 17 Years of Agri-biotech Reporting in the Philippines (2000-2016). http://isaaa.org/resources/publications/fromfeartofacts/download/From_Fear_to_Facts.pdf.

Monday, June 05, 2017

ISAAA Brief 52 Launched in Beijing, Manila, Yogyakarta, and Tokyo


ISAAA has released the 21st Brief in its global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops series in Beijing, China on May 4, 2017. Brief 52 companion documents include the Executive Summary (available in six language translations), press release (available in nine language translations), infographics, video, and Powerpoint slides available at the ISAAA website.

Year after year, ISAAA prepares the global status report and supports its free distribution to developing countries to provide information and knowledge to the scientific community and facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion regarding the potential role of biotech crops in contributing to global food, feed, fiber, and fuel security, and a more sustainable agriculture.

The 2016 Global Status Report documents the global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops in the world in 2016, when ~18 million farmers from 26 countries planted 185.1 million hectares of biotech crops. Below are summaries of the country launches held for the 2016 Global Status Report.


BEIJING, CHINA

Brief 52 was launched in two events held on May 4 and 5, 2017 in Beijing, China, organized in cooperation with China Biotechnology Information Center, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Chinese Biotechnology Society.

The media conference held on May 4, 2017 at China Wold Hotel was attended by some 40 journalists from Chinese and international news agencies. ISAAA Chair, Dr. Paul Teng, presented the highlights of the report, while ISAAA Senior Program Officer, Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, talked about the development and adoption of biotech crops in Asia.


On May 5, a seminar was held at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which was attended by 120 scientists, members of the academe, and students. Drs. Teng and Aldemita presented the highlights of 2016 report. Mr. Zhang Xianfa from the Ag GMO Division of the Ministry of Agriculture discussed the status of Chinese biotech crops regulation and development. The participants signified their interest in the adoption of more biotech crops in the country to benefit not just the farmers and their families, but also the consumers.

Read the Crop Biotech Update article here. 


MANILA, PHILIPPINES

On May 19, 2017, media practitioners, farmers, and government agency officers attended the Brief 52 launch in Manila during a media conference at the Acacia Hotel, Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines.


Dr. Teng presented the report, including the global impact and future prospects of biotech crops. SEARCA Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr. said that the 2016 figures surpass previous records and attest to the effectiveness and benefits of biotechnology. 

Officer-in-Charge and Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry and Director of the Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries Biotechnology Program of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril, reported on the biosafety regulatory developments in the country, particularly the harmonization of the Joint Department Circular by the five government departments, namely the Departments of Agriculture; Science and Technology; Environment and Natural Resources; Health; and the Interior and Local Government. The JDC is the latest biosafety regulatory guidelines for biotech crops in the Philippines, and is expected to regulate the testing and commercialization of other biotech crops in the pipeline, including Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice.

Read the Crop Biotech Update article here.


YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA

Brief 52 was launched at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia on May 23, 2016 during a one-day national seminar on biotechnology. The event, organized by ISAAA and the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Centre (IndoBIC) was attended by some 90 members of the academe, local government representatives, media practitioners, and students. Ir. Arofa Noor Indriani MSI, Director of Food Security Agency of Yogyakarta Province, graced the event and gave the welcome message.

Dr. Aldemita presented the 2016 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops. Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, Executive Director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC), gave an overview of biotech/GM crop adoption in Asia, while Dr. Muhammad Herman discussed the research and development of biotech product and its regulation in Indonesia. Scientists from Gadjah Mada University, Bogor Agricultural University, and Yogyakarta province presented updates on agri-biotech research.


Drs. Aldemita and Arujanan, together with IndoBIC Director, Prof. Dr. Bambang Purwantara, and Dr. Herman were guests on live television interviews on Jogja TV on May 22, and Kompass TV on May 23.

Read the Crop Biotech Update article here.


TOKYO, JAPAN

Dr. Aldemita presented the highlights of Brief 52 at the seminar launch of ISAAA at Asahi Seminar Hall, Tokyo, Japan on May 30, 2017. The seminar launch was organized by CBIJ and NBIC with 120 participants, including the media, government representatives, academe, and the industry. 


During the seminar launch, Dr. Fusao Tomita, director of Nippon Biotechnology Information Center (NBIC) opined that Hokkaido farmers are interested in planting biotech sugar beet and consumers should be educated on substantial equivalence of sugar derived from biotech and non-biotech sugar beet.

Read the Crop Biotech Update article here.


More information about ISAAA Brief 52 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016 are available at the ISAAA website.

For more information about ISAAA, visit http://www.isaaa.org/, or follow ISAAA on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/isaaa.org) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/isaaa_org).

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Biotech/GM Crops Surge to a New Peak of 185.1 Million Hectares in 2016

Global area rebounds from 2015 as farmers continue to adopt biotech crops 

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016its annual report showcasing the 110-fold increase in the global adoption rate of biotech crops in 21 years of commercialization – growing from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016. The 2016 Report continues to demonstrate the long-standing benefits of biotech crops for farmers in developing and industrialized countries, as well as consumer benefits of recently approved and commercialized varieties. 


“Biotech crops have become a vital agricultural resource for farmers around the world because of the immense benefits for improved productivity and profitability, as well as conservation efforts,” said Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Board Chair. “With the commercial approvals and plantings of new varieties of biotech potatoes and apples, consumers will begin to enjoy direct benefits of biotechnology with produce that is not likely to spoil or be damaged, which in turn has the potential to substantially reduce food waste and consumer grocery costs.”

The adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equal to removing ~12 million cars from the road annually in recent years; conserved biodiversity by removing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015; and decreased the environmental impact with a 19% reduction in herbicide and insecticide use (Brookes and Barfoot, 2017, Forthcoming). Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people. 

“Biotechnology is one of the tools necessary in helping farmers grow more food on less land. However, the promises of biotech crops can only be unlocked if farmers are able to buy and plant these crops, following a scientific approach to regulatory reviews and approvals.”

- Dr. Randy A. Hautea, ISAAA Global Coordinator

As more varieties of biotech crops are approved and commercialized for use by farmers, ISAAA expects to see adoption rates continue to climb and to benefit farmers in developing countries. For example, among African nations where regulatory processes have traditionally created barriers to biotech crop adoption rates, advances are being realized. In 2016, South Africa and Sudan increased the planting of biotech maize, soybean and cotton to 2.66 million hectares from 2.29 million hectares in 2015. Elsewhere on the continent, a new wave of acceptance is emerging as Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland and Uganda make advances in regulatory review and commercial approvals for a variety of biotech crops.

“Even with a long history of regulatory barriers, African farmers continue to adopt biotech crops because of the value they are realizing from the stability and productivity of biotech varieties,” said Hautea. “As more countries move forward with regulatory reviews for crops such as bananas, cowpeas and sorghum, we believe biotech crop plantings will continue to grow in Africa and elsewhere.”

Also in 2016, Brazil increased biotech area of maize, soybean, cotton and canola by a remarkable 11% – maintaining its ranking as the second largest producer of biotech crops after the United States. In Brazil, biotech soybeans account for 32.7 million hectares of the 91.4 million hectares grown worldwide.



For 2016, ISAAA also reports that there were improvements in the commercialization and plantings of biotech fruits and vegetables with direct consumer benefits. These included the commercial approvals of the Innate™ Russet Burbank Gen 2 potatoes that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States and the Simplot Gen 1 White Russet™ brand potatoes that were approved by Health Canada for fresh market sale in Canada. These biotech potato varieties have lower levels of asparagine, which reduces the creation of acrylamide during high-heat cooking. Additionally, the first commercially saleable quantities of Arctic® Apples were harvested in 2016, stored over the winter and are projected to be sold in U.S. grocery stores in 2017.

Additional highlights from ISAAA’s 2016 report include:
  • Global area rebounded in 2016 with 185.1 million hectares of biotech crops versus 179. 7 million hectares 2015, when global area for all crops was down, and 181.5 million hectares in 2014. 
  • In 2016, 26 countries in total, including 19 developing and 7 industrial countries, grew biotech crops. Developing countries grew 54% of biotech crops, compared to 46% for industrial nations. 
  • Eight countries in Asia and the Pacific, including China and India, grew 18.6 million hectare of biotech crops in 2016.
  • 10 countries in Latin America, including Paraguay and Uruguay, grew a combined 80 million hectares of biotech crops in 2016. 
  • In 2016, the leading countries growing biotech crops continued to be represented by the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. Combined, these five countries planted 91% of the global biotech crop area. 
  • Four countries in Europe -- Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic Slovakia -- grew more than 136,000 hectares of biotech maize in 2016, an increase of 17% from 2015, reflecting EU’s need for insect resistant maize. 
  • Biotech crops with stacked traits accounted for 41% of global area, second only to herbicide tolerance at 47%.
  • Biotech soybean varieties accounted for 50% of global biotech crop area. Based on global area for individual crops, 78% of soybean, 64% of cotton, 26% of maize and 24% of canola planted in the world were biotech varieties.
  • Countries with over 90% adoption of biotech soybean are U.S.A, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and Uruguay; close to or over 90% adoption of biotech maize are USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and Uruguay; over 90% of biotech cotton are USA, Argentina, India, China, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, and Myanmar; and with 90% or more of biotech canola are USA and Canada.
For more information and other details about the report, visit the Brief 52 page at the ISAAA website.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trending News on Crop Biotech in 2016

Have you heard about the pink pineapple with high lycopene content developed by Del Monte? How about bananas with longer shelf-life? These are just some of the juicy news on crop biotech in 2016.
We gathered the top 10 most trending Crop Biotech Update news shared on Facebook to give you a glimpse of crop biotech happenings in 2016. Read on and make sure you don't miss which news made it to the number one spot.



The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) conducted a Joint Department Circular (JDC) Public Briefing & Symposium on Agricultural Modernization on September 15, 2016 at the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 2 Experiment Station in Ilagan, Isabela in the Philippines. Read more.





Researchers from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at  University of Copenhagen have shown, for the first time, that the production of a plant hormone by a beneficial microbe is protecting a plant from a pathogenic microbe by inducing plant resistance. Read more.




Tomato fruit borer (Helicoverpa armigera) is one of the most damaging pests in tomato production, especially in India. Tomatoes do not have genes that confer resistance against the borer and conventional efforts to manage the pest were ineffective. Thus, a team of Indian scientists used Bt technology to develop fruit borer resistant tomatoes. Read more.




The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completed the evaluation of genetically engineered pink flesh pineapple and concluded that it is as safe and nutritious as its conventional pineapple varieties. Read more.




Filipino farmer leaders participated in a two-day study visit to Bt brinjal (eggplant) farms in Bangladesh last February 23 to 26, 2016. Discussions on biotechnology regulations in Bangladesh, research and development of Bt brinjal, and farmer experiences on planting Bt brinjal were conducted with officials from the Bangladesh government and scientists from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). The activities included field visits to Bt brinjal planting sites, interactions with Bt brinjal farmers as well as Bt brinjal tasting. The activities were held in two villages in Bogra, Bangladesh. Read more.




Cairo University students under the BSc Biotechnology program launched the Scientific Square Radio (SSR). It is the first scientific radio station in Egypt and is located at the Central Library, Faculty of Agriculture, Cairo University. Egypt Biotechnology Information Center (EBIC) highly supported the initiative. Read more.



4. SCIENTISTS RESTRICT CRY1AC EXPRESSION TO BITING SITES IN BIOTECH COTTON


Scientists from University of Ankara, Turkey and partners developed plant expression constructs with cry1Ac gene under the wound-inducible promoter AoPR1 to concentrate Bt gene expression in insect wounding parts of the plants. Read more. 


3. UGANDA'S FIRST FIELD OBSERVATION OF GM POTATO SHOWS EXTREME RESISTANCE TO LATE BLIGHT


The first field trial of genetically modified (GM) potatoes resistant to potato blight conducted in Uganda from October 2015 to January 2016 has been completed at the Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KaZARDI) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). Read more.




U.S President Barack Obama signed the GM food labeling bill into law. The bill was drafted by Senators Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow, which aims to prevent states from issuing mandatory labeling laws and require food manufacturers to use one of three different labels for GM food products: (1) label with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) symbol indicating the presence of GMOs; (2) label using plain language; or (3) add a scanning code that links to ingredient details. Read more.



Scientists from Agricultural Research Organization in Israel have developed transgenic banana plants with longer shelf-life by reducing expression of two transcription factors. The results are published in Plant Physiology. Read more. 


Never miss the latest news on agri-biotechnology in 2017. Get FREE Crop Biotech Update subscription now! Go to www.isaaa.org/subscribe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The trial of Bt talong field trials

The Philippine government issued a policy statement in July 2001 promoting the judicious use of modern biotechnology and its products for food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.  In April 2002, rules and regulations on the importation and release into the environment of biotech plants and products were issued.  Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DA AO8), series of 2002 served as the regulatory guidelines in assessing health and environmental safety of biotech crops.

Soon after the approval of the government on the planting of the first biotech crop in December 2002, the agricultural landscape in the Philippines changed significantly, particularly in the corn sector.  From the initial plantings in 2003 of biotech corn in about 20,000 hectares, commercial plantings now cover an area of about 800 thousand hectares, planted by more than 350 thousand farmers. Because of the fast and wide adoption of biotech corn, the country has achieved sufficiency in the supply of yellow corn starting in 2012.

Early traits of biotech corn provide solution to infestation of Asiatic corn borer and problem in maintaining crop stand with the application of herbicides.  Biotech corn available now in the market has the combination of both traits. Biotech corn products in the pipeline have traits that can address other pests and diseases, improving nutritional value, and can withstand harsh climate conditions such as drought.

Bt talong research and development

With the success in the adoption of biotech corn in the country, the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) spearheaded the development of a biotech eggplant that provides resistance to its chronic pest, the fruit and shoot borer.  Eggplant production provides an important source of cash income for small and resource-poor farmers in the country, and accounts for more than 30% of the volume of vegetable production. 

The eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) is a lepidopterous insect whose larva consumes the inner part of the eggplant fruit.  Damage caused by the EFSB normally results to nearly 80% of yield loss especially during high incidence of infestation.  The pest’s gut, similar to that of the corn borer, is affected by the toxin produced by the cry1a gene. Hence, similar to the first commercialized biotech corn, Bt talong use the gene from the soil borne bacteria Bacillus thuringensis to control EFSB. 

Research started in 2003 in the laboratory and contained experiment was from 2007 to 2009 under the supervision of the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines (NCBP).  Field trials in Laguna, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, and North Cotabato were conducted from 2010 to 2012.  Bt talong varieties developed by IPB-UPLB contained a transformation event developed by Mahyco in India and introgressed into local open-pollinated varieties through backcrossing.  The biotech eggplant is the first public-sector initiated research and the first biotech food crop developed in the Philippines.

As with other biotech crops developed in the Philippines and elsewhere, Bt talong followed a rigorous regulatory guidelines and review throughout its research and development process. Research activities on Bt talong followed the strict regulatory requirements stipulated in the Philippine Biosafety Guidelines and the DA AO8 designed to minimize and manage the risks to both human health and to the environment of biotech products produced through modern biotechnology.

Bt talong court trial

The development of Bt talong has never been without any challenges.  For instance, field trial at UP Mindanao in Davao City had to be prematurely terminated in December 2010 because of the anti-biotech stance of the city government and its officials.  At the height of the field trial being conducted at the experimental farm of UPLB, members of Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) vandalized and uprooted eggplants in February 2011.

In April 2012, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka at Syentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), and other personalities filed a writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus in the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the field trials of Bt talong.  The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law that provides for the protection of one’s rights to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”. Petitioners argued that the field trials of Bt talong violated the constitutional rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology pointing out the inherent and potential risks on human and animal health and the environment through “field trial contamination”.

Respondents to the case were Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), UP Los Baños Foundation, Inc. (UPLBFI) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan on May 2, 2012 directing the respondents to answer the petition of the anti-biotech entities.  The case was subsequently remanded by the SC to the Court of Appeals (CA) on July 10, 2012 for hearings, reception of evidence, and rendition of judgment.  On October 12, 2012, the appellate court issued a resolution acknowledging the legal standing of the petitioners, non-mootness of the case, and presence of justiciable controversies in relation to non-compliance with environmental and local government laws.  Petitioners maintained that the conduct of Bt talong field trials should be covered by the environmental impact statement (EIS) system and that there were no genuine public consultations conducted in communities within the trial sites prior to the approval of the field trials.

Respondents maintained that since the field trials had already been terminated, petition for writ of kalikasan should be dismissed for being moot and academic.  Moreover, Bt talong field trials do not cause environmental damage and do not prejudice the life, health and property of individuals.

In a span of nearly seven months, hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved were conducted, with both local and foreign experts presenting their arguments and evidence on the case at bar.  The CA adopted the “hot-tub” method in hearing the testimonies and arguments of expert witnesses from both parties.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 17, 2013, the appellate court ruled that “the field trials of genetically modified organisms Bt talong could not be declared as safe to human health and to our ecology with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology”.  The court maintained that there is still no full scientific certainty on the effects of the Bt talong to the environment and to the health of the people.  The CA further stressed that the “overall safety guarantee of Bt talong remains unknown”.  This is where the premise of precautionary principle was applied. 

The court also claimed that the existing biosafety regulations issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and health of the people.  The appellate court ordered to permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials and protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment in accordance with the judgment.

Greenpeace and Masipag were quick to commend the decision of the CA and claimed the ruling as “victory to the Filipino people”.  However, farmers felt otherwise.  In a series of public dialogues conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) on Bt talong participated in by key agriculture stakeholders from Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon provinces, farmers lamented the undue ruling against Bt talong field trials as a major setback to adopting a much needed technology that is economically beneficial and safe to their health and the environment.  Farmers even signed a manifesto supporting commercial use of biotech crops in the country and asked for the early release of the Bt talong in the market.

A consolidated petition was lodged to the SC to seek reversal of the May 17, 2013 decision and the September 20, 2013 resolution of the appellate court denying the motions for reconsideration filed by Bt talong proponents.  On December 8, 2015, after the review of the petitions and submissions, the SC en banc upheld the decision of the appellate court and further modified the CA ruling. The DA AO8 was nullified which temporarily halted the application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with law.

Members of the scientific community, including student organizations and professional groups whose memberships are composed of well-known scientists such as the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), criticized the High Court’s ruling which apparently relied on discredited scientific research and literatures and improperly applied the precautionary principle to support its judgment.  Other stakeholders lamented on the possible negative repercussions of the SC decision on modern biotechnology and scientific advancement in the country.  Some farmer groups had urged the SC to junk the writ of kalikasan against Bt talong and the temporary ban on the commercial use, propagation and importation of other biotech plant products. 

In his concurring opinion to the SC ruling, Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen opined that the petition for the writ of kalikasan should have been dismissed and considered moot and academic by the appellate court considering the expiration of the validity of the biosafety permits for the field trials and the actual termination of all the field trials.  Further, Justice Leonen noted “grave abuse of discretion which amounts to excess of jurisdiction” in relation to the CA ruling.

Despite the negative decision of the SC, some positive outcomes were realized with the court’s ruling.  The SC ruling heightened public awareness and interest on modern biotechnology and biotech plant products.  The SC decision had become the topic of discussion for weeks in both mainstream and social media and public dialogues.  A collective voice of scientists defended the science behind the Bt technology and the safety and benefits of biotech crops.  The science community ventilated concerns on the consequences of the SC decision on the advancement of science and technology in the country.  In a demonstration of cooperation and mutual interest, five government agencies worked together to draft and finalize a new directive that would later become the regulatory framework for safety decisions on biotech plant products that is more transparent, participatory, comprehensive, and with strict adherence to high standards of risk assessment.

Supreme Court reversed previous ruling

Undeterred by the decision of the SC, motions for reconsideration were filed by the Bt talong proponents.  An unexpected turn of events occurred on July 26, 2016 when the SC en banc unanimous reversed its previous ruling.  The SC ruled in favor of the Bt talong proponents affirming mootness of the case.  The SC decision further stated that since no commercial propagation of Bt talong took place and research activities never went beyond the field trial phase, “any future threat to the public to a healthful and balanced ecology is more imagined than real.”

The court further noted that it should not have invalidated DA AO8 as it was only “collaterally challenged” and the anti-Bt talong petitioners were merely asking for amendments to the administrative order. The court declared DA AO8 null and void in its previous decision for failure to comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).  Three main issues raised by the court in the nullification of DA AO8 were the lack of meaningful public participation on biosafety decisions, non-implementation of the EIS system, and lack of standards for risk assessment.

New regulatory guidelines

The SC ruling in December 2015 required the issuance of new regulatory guidelines for safety assessment of biotech plant products.  Following the order of the SC, the NCBP initiated the drafting, public consultations, and finalization of the Joint Department Circular No. 1 (JDC), series of 2016.   The new regulatory framework became effective on April 15, 2016 replacing the voided DA AO8.  Under the JDC, five relevant government agencies, namely Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) participate in the biosafety decision-making process involving the research, development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of biotech plant and plant products.  The JDC provides a more rigorous scrutiny of biotech plant products with the inclusion in the safety assessment of environmental impacts, health impacts, and involvement and meaningful participation of the general public and communities in the decision-making process.

The next step

With the field trials of Bt talong already completed, confirming the efficacy of the technology against the fruit and shoot borer and its safety towards beneficial and non-target insects, and with the unanimous ruling of the SC reversing its earlier decision against field tests, immediate commercial release should be considered by its developer.  Farmers are set to gain from the adoption of Bt talong with significant reduction in yield loss, lesser use of pesticides, and increased income.  Consumers are expected to benefit from pesticide-free eggplants that will be made available in the market.

Written by Panfilo G. de Guzman, Associate Scientist of the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-biotech Applications. This article was originally published in BIOLIFE Magazine. 

Photos from iStock.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Hope for the Harvest

At the earliest light of day, farmers march to their fields with the hope of a good harvest. They till their land, plant seeds, and perform farming practices that they deem helpful to grow good crops and get high yields. A Filipino folk song best describes the life of a farmer in the field: Magtanim ay ‘di biro (Farming is not a joke).

On the other side of the field, scientists are growing crops not for the yield but to harvest information about the biotech crops they are studying. They carefully follow research guidelines alongside with the protocols implemented by the government with the hope that after all the backbreaking work; the crops they develop will eventually crossover to the farmers’ fields.

The tale of two Bt crops

In the Philippines, genetically modified (GM) maize resistant to a major insect pest and specific herbicides continues to be one of maize farmers' best options. After over a decade of commercializing biotech corn, the Philippines has finally achieved self-sufficiency. This has helped the country to save Php60M from corn imports from 2010-2013.

Eggplant, the top vegetable in the country, has been developed by the University of the Philippines to be resistant to its major insect pest – the fruit and shoot borer. The research started in 2003 following the strict rules implemented by regulatory government agencies. Alongside the conduct of the study, scientists and science communicators were equipping the public with facts about the biotech crop, which could potentially be the first GM food crop in the country. These efforts continued until the last leg of the research, which ended with a bang — biotech critics from Greenpeace filed a Writ of Kalikasan against the biotech crop in 2012.

Guided by the precautionary principle and the infamous Gilles-Eric Séralini’s journal article linking cancer to GM herbicide tolerant maize, the Philippine Court of Appeals gave the favor to the vigilant environmentalists’ plea to stop the trials in 2013. The following year, Séralini's paper was retracted by Food and Chemical Toxicology journal due to its questionable methodology which includes low number of samples and use of Sprague-Dawley rats that are tumor-prone.

The respondents to the case filed an appeal to review the case but the Court of Appeals affirmed its ruling that the trials violated the people’s constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology.  The respondents thus elevated the appeal to the Supreme Court for review.  Interventions from farmers and other organizations have been submitted to the court to reverse the earlier ruling. In December 2015, the Supreme Court declared that the testing of Bt eggplant should be stopped (but it is actually over before the filing of the case). For another blow to the scientific community, farmers and food/feed processors, the High Court also invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8, which covers the importation and/or release to the environment of GM plants. But the case did not end there because the Supreme Court ordered for a new set of regulations that will deal with GM crops.

In March 2016, five government agencies released a new set of regulations for GM crops, based on multisectoral public consultations handled by the National Committee of Biosafety in the Philippines. After four months, farmers, researchers and the rest of the community were surprised with another decision from the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the High Court reversed its earlier decision to stop the trials and granted Motions for Reconsideration submitted by the Bt eggplant developers and co-petitioners. Will Bt eggplant see the light of day in the Philippines soon?

Socio-economic experts have projected the potential benefits of Bt eggplant in the Philippines. Based on ex ante case studies, the average potential benefit of planting Bt eggplant ranges from 2,753-6,243 USD per hectare more than conventional eggplant varieties. This significant addition in profit is attributed to increased marketable yield and reduced pesticide use. In addition to higher income, there will also be reduction in pesticide use by almost 50 percent, which also means 19.5% decrease in environmental footprint. Because of decrease in pesticide use, health and environmental benefits will also be acquired. It is estimated that at 50 percent adoption rate of the crop, the benefits to human health is valued at 57,353 USD per year while the collective benefits to farm animals, beneficial insects and birds is estimated to be 155,841 USD per year.

Filipino farmers are eagerly waiting for the resolution to the Bt eggplant case. They are hankering for solutions because they are tired of getting infested produce that affect their families’ income. This could be the reason why a lot of eggplant farmers in the country are dipping their eggplant crops in a concoction of insecticides. They are out of options.

In South Asia, the same biotech crop also faced trial after trial. In India, even if Bt cotton has been proven to be safe and highly adopted by farmers over the years, Bt eggplant or brinjal is still in question.

Bt brinjal battle in Bangladesh

Farmers in the densely-populated country of Bangladesh finally got a taste of the benefits of crop biotechnology in 2014. Due to strong political will, Bt brinjal was approved for cultivation in 2013 and 20 small farmers planted the first seedlings of Bt brinjal on their fields in 2014. It is has been projected that Bt brinjal would generate a net additional economic benefi­t of 200 million USD per year for around 150,000 small brinjal farmers in Bangladesh. This breakthrough serves as an inspiration for other countries who are hoping to grow biotech crops in the coming years. As for the Philippines and India, who are also on the verge on commercializing the same biotech crop but halted by critics, hope remains in the hearts of farmers and scientists that this crop developed to minimize pesticide use and protect farmers’ health would eventually reach the farmers’ fields in due time.

The moral of the story

These stories highlight two main characters on stage: the scientists and the farmers. The scientists actually take two vital roles in the field of biotechnology: one as researcher and another as communicator. In a study conducted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), it was shown that scientists devote only a small portion of their time for public engagement due to high demand of their research work and other responsibilities. Though there are science communicators who are trained to fulfil such task, the scientists are still on top of the credibility ladder to deliver facts on GM crops to the public. Thus, their efforts are highly needed to feed the minds of the public with right knowledge about biotech crops.

The farmers are the main protagonist in the story of biotech development. The primary goal in developing biotech crops is to be able to help farmers increase their yields and incomes by addressing their major concerns such as pests, weeds, and other stresses. Thus, the first generation of biotech crops are focused on developing the insect resistance and herbicide tolerance of crops.

Just like any technology, biotechnology does not answer all of farmers’ concerns. However, with the documented benefits of biotech crops, such technology cannot be denied for farmers who are looking for solutions to their farming problems. After all, they have a huge task of bringing food to our tables. By 2050, the world’s population may reach 9 billion, demanding for doubling present global food produce. With this demand, every tool in agriculture’s toolbox is necessary to the mend hunger and poverty.

Written by Kristine Grace Tome, Program Associate at the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, ISAAA.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

ISAAA Report Reaches 4.27 Billion People

The latest ISAAA report, 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 (ISAAA Brief 51), has reached about 4.27 billion individuals all over the world through news reports and social media posts. This is the highest media impressions recorded for any ISAAA Brief for the time period of two months since launch.

ISAAA Brief 51 was first launched in Beijing, China in April, catching the interest of the Chinese media. Thus, it has reached 2.9 billion people in China alone. Individuals from other developing countries such as Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Brazil also showed high interest on the ISAAA report. The New York Times and USA Today published articles about the report which were shared over 3,000 times in Facebook and Twitter.

Aside from English, a significant number of articles were written in other major languages such as Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish. Majority of the articles (92%) were written in neutral tone.

The news reports and social media posts are gathered by ISAAA staff, partners, and PR agencies.

Read the concise version of Brief 51, Pocket K No. 16: Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015.


The other Brief 51 materials are also available in different languages:

TOP TEN FACTS about Biotech/GM Crops in their First 20 Years, 1996 to 2015

Executive Summary

PPT Slides and Tables (2 languages)