Written by the Administrator
If we owe the future to our children, then why are we afraid of tools that have the potential to help make the world a better place for them?
Instead of working together to utilize science for the welfare of all, a “war” had been subtly fought in the field of biotechnology since scientists at the University of Washington developed the first genetically modified (GM) tobacco plants in the 1970s. The fiercest battle had been on the safety of GM crops.
In a 2006 stakeholder perception study conducted in the Philippines, Mexico, and South Africa, Philipp Aerni and Thomas Bernauer said that the majority of the respondents in these countries recognize the potential of biotechnology to address certain problems in agriculture.
Although the perception is generally favorable, the researchers noted that local stakeholders, who are either affiliated with international agribusiness or the global anti-biotech movement, have strong ‘genophobic’ view of large NGO networks in Europe. They view “biotechnology as a plot devised by big businesses to exploit poor farmers and endanger the health of consumers, and the ‘genophile’ view of American business that tends to advocate ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions.”
The researchers claimed that through well-staged media campaigns, European-based NGOs and government agencies managed to create negative public opinion on GMOs and had consolidated their image as defenders of the public interest, while persuading many governments to generally oppose the use of GMOs. However, how did they wage their battle?
On August 8, 2013, members of militant groups or anti-GM groups trashed the Golden Rice field trial planted in Pili, Camarines Sur. This happened despite an invitation to a dialogue at the DA by members and partners of the Golden Rice project.
Taking more than 10 years to develop and test, Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. Unlike the militant groups, we respect rules in conducting this research. Researchers abide by the government regulatory system that approves the conduct of these trials to ensure that risk, if present, is properly identified and addressed.
In 2011, members of Greenpeace, a Europe-based pressure group, also forced their way into the UPLB-Institute of Plant Breeding experimental farm and uprooted the Bt eggplants, which caused damage estimated at P25 million to the UPLB.
The Department of Justice said, “Although….Greenpeace members may freely exercise their environmental advocacy, it is also a hornbeak doctrine that in the exercise of our rights and in the enjoyment of our privileges, we must not injure the rights of others.”
The genophobic view of anti-GMO groups persists amidst public assurance from more than 3,200 scientists worldwide that agricultural biotechnology is safe to humans, animals, and the environment.
Many activists still cling on and continue citing the already dismissed (by European Food Safety Authority) study of Gilles-Éric Séralini, a researcher at the University of Caen Lower Normandy in France, who found that rats eating a common type of GM corn contracted cancer at an alarmingly high rate.
Séralini has long been an anti-GM campaigner. Reviewers of his study claimed that he used a strain of rat that too easily develops tumors, “did not use enough rats, did not include proper control groups and failed to report many details of the experiment, including how the analysis was performed.”
Anti-GMO groups say that they do not trust US research on the safety of genetically modified foods because they claim that these are often funded or even conducted by GM companies, such as Monsanto. However, literature shows that “much research on the subject comes from the European Commission, the administrative body of the EU, which cannot be so easily dismissed as an industry tool. The Commission has funded 130 research projects, carried out by more than 500 independent teams, on the safety of GM crops. None of those studies found any particular risk from GM crops.”
Since the commercialization of the first transgenic crop 14 years ago, biotech crops are now planted to more than 134 M ha in 25 countries with a market value of more than US$10 billion. There are now more than 14 M biotech farmers in 25 countries worldwide, of which 11 are developing. There are also 15 other countries that have granted regulatory approvals for direct use of biotech crops as food and feed.
At PhilRice, we use biotechnology to develop rice that are tolerant to drought, submergence, and saline; and with added nutrients. We hope that through the impact of our researches, the brute force and fear applied by the anti-GMO groups will be overpowered by brute science for the sake of the next generation.