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Farmer's group urges ban on planting Bt corn; says it could be cause of illnesses
Allen V. Estabillo / Mindanews / 19 October 2004
KORONADAL CITY -- A farmers' group has called for an immediate moratorium on the planting of the controversial Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) corn in the country as it raised fears that the genetically-engineered crop could be the cause of the illnesses afflicting several residents in at least two farming villages in Mindanao.
Francis Morales, advocacy officer for Mindanao of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), said they are investigating the "unusual illnesses" that downed residents of Barangay Tuka in Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat and of Barangay Kalapagan in San Mariano, Davao Oriental supposedly after eating and being exposed to Bt corn.
"This is very alarming because these two new cases clearly show that Bt corn is not safe for humans," Morales told MindaNews.
In San Mariano, he said the Social Action Center (SAC) of the Diocese of Mati reported that several residents of Barangay Kalapagan turned "yellowish" and became weak after allegedly eating grilled Bt corn sometime last month.
He said the SAC has submitted a report to the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
In Bagumbayan, Morales said more than a dozen farmers and residents of Barangay Tuka complained they fell ill two weeks ago after being exposed to the flowering Bt corn planted in their village.
"Some of them experienced nose bleeding, vomiting, fever and other flu-like symptoms," Morales said.
He said the symptoms were similar to those experienced two years ago by residents of Sitio Kalyong in Barangay Landan, Polomolok, South Cotabato where the first case of alleged harmful effects of the flowering Bt corn was documented.
In April this year, the same illnesses were reported to have hit at least a dozen residents near a Bt corn plantation in Barangay Rotonda in this city.
The incident in Sitio Kalyong gained global attention when Dr. Terje Traviik, a scientist from the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, claimed a study on the blood samples of 39 B’laan residents from the area yielded positive to exposure to Bt toxin.
On August 8, 2003, about 100 residents from Sitio Kalyong were documented to have been suffering from headache, dizziness, extreme stomach pain, vomiting
The documentation was made some three months after local farmers planted Yieldgard 818, a Bt corn variety produced by Monsanto Philippines. But government medical experts immediately countered Traviik’s findings saying they were not based on standard scientific and medical processes.
Morales said they plan to extract blood samples from affected residents in San Mariano and Bagumbayan for further scientific and medical testing.
He said they are considering tapping the services of Traviik who is now reportedly conducting a study on the "cause and effect" of the Kalyong incident
in relation to the Bt corn toxin.
Morales said they have also started campaign among farmers in Bagumbayan to stop planting Bt corn in the area.
"We are focusing much attention on this campaign because we have received information that at least 6,000 bags of Bt corn seeds are set to arrive in Barangay Tuka," he said.
Morales said they are also closely watching other villages in Bagumbayan where over 50 percent of the town’s 67,295 hectares of agricultural lands are presently planted to corn.
Meanwhile, the Sultan Kudarat agriculture office has not received any report on the Barangay Tuka illnesses.
"We don’t know anything about that but we will immediately refer the matter to the Bagumbayan agriculture office," provincial corn coordinator Inocencio Padilla told MindaNews in a telephone interview this morning.
But Padilla expressed doubts on the reports saying this could just be "part of the propaganda" by groups opposing the commercialization of Bt corn.
Monsanto officials earlier brushed aside the findings of Traavik and assured the public their Bt corn product has no ill effects to humans and the environment.
"We really don't know how they were able to determine such findings. I think it's a biased result considering that they came from those opposing our product," said Francisco Camacho, Monsanto technology development executive.
Farmer's group urges ban on planting Bt corn (20/10/2004)
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