Need to look into whole aspect of GMOs
Inquirer [Philippines], Letters to the Editor, September 10 2001
WE applaud the recent peaceful and militant protest action of farmers groups headed by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chapter in South Cotabato against the field testing of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, a so-called genetically modified organism (GMO).
Contrary to the statement of Monsanto, a leading proponent of the commercialization of GMOs, the farmer's group and their supporters was not a mob and their protest action was legitimate.
As a sign of protest, the group uprooted all the experimental plants of Bt corn in Barangay Maltana, Tampacan, South Cotabato.
This was after the group exhausted all possible legal venues over the years to air their disagreement and concerns against the field testing of the controversial plant.
Scientists, consumer and environmental groups support the farmers' action.
It expresses our strong opposition against the introduction and commercialization by agrochemical transnational companies' GMO products in our agriculture and food market.
We believe that GMO products, as currently marketed, such as the Bt corn, will further impoverish our local farmers, threaten their health and degrade our environment.
While it is still an open debate whether GMO products are safe or not, it is an obvious fact that these products are now designed to earn significant profits for the agrochemical companies.
Let us look back at the predecessor of GMOs in agriculture, the High Yielding Varieties (HYVs). In the '60s, the Green Revolution packaged HYVs as the solution to our low agricultural productivity and will result in the alleviation of farmers'poverty.
While there was an increase in rice production in the early years of the Green Revolution, the ill effects of HYVs have been showing up, with our farmers reeling from its negative impacts, to wit:
* Increase in production cost of agriculture. Costs of HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides rise annually. These end up negating the income realized by farmers from increase in their harvest. * Widespread erosion of our traditional rice and corn varieties. In the 1960's there were more than 5,000 rice varieties planted in the Philippines.
By the '90s, 87 percent of our total farmlands are planted to only five to six hybrid varieties. Similarly, our farmers have lost natural local food source such as hito and local kuhol, again brought about by intensive use of chemical inputs.
* Increase in poisoning incidence and chemical related diseases among farming communities brought about by intensive use and inadequate information regarding the proper handling of chemical inputs in production.
* Widespread degradation of agricultural lands because of increased soil acidity and toxicity. Increased incidence of pest outbreaks and resurgence of major plant pests and diseases such as the golden kuhol, tungro virus and corn borer.
Again, agro-chemical TNCs, the proponents of HYV, are now proclaiming GMOs as the "new solution" to our low productivity in agriculture. We could not help believing otherwise.
In the United States, Monsanto commercially sells Bt corn seeds and products to farmers and food corporations. Bt corn seeds come with a contract agreement and pre-packaged agricultural products.
First, farmers are not allowed to collect, store, share and plant second generation Bt corn seeds. Farmers who do so can be imprisoned or charged in court. This just means that they will have to continue buying the seeds from the market.
Second, when farmers buy and plant Monsanto Bt corn seeds they must also buy and use Monsanto Round-Up herbicide. This scheme brought multimillion dollar profits for Monsanto in the United States alone.
In 1998 Monsanto had a 25 percent increase in volume sale of Round-Up herbicide and a tripling of the area planted with Monsanto's GMO crops.
Farmers, scientists, environmentalists and consumers are open to and welcome any development in science and technology as well as their corresponding products as long as these will bring benefits and truly serve mankind.
But the GMO products of agrochemical TNCs like the Bt and golden rice will not solve our century-old problem of low agricultural productivity and alleviate farmers from poverty nor will it prevent the degradation of our environment.
Its clear design and purpose is the further dependency of our farmers on agrochemical TNC products such as seeds, chemical fertilizer and pesticide thus intensifying their monopoly control of our agriculture.
FRANCES QUIMPO, national coordinator, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment