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Heeding the Filipino people’s cry:
Lawmakers want GMOs out of food and agriculture

By Pesticide Action Network Philippines

A strong lobby to prohibit the entry, sale, field testing, and release of crops and food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) recently emerged from the ranks of progressive lawmakers in the Philippine House of Representatives.

A forum held last September 9, part of the Philippine leg of the 2004 People’s Caravan, successfully forged a common understanding and unity against agrochemicals amongst farmers, scientists, academicians and policymakers.

Dubbed as the “Legislators-Peasants Dialogue on Pesticides ang Genetically Modified Organisms,” the activity attracted 7 congressmen, representatives of almost 20 congressmen, and 50 members of farmers groups and NGOs affiliated with the alliance Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST).

GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act of 2004

Party-list lawmakers led by neophyte Rep. Rafael Mariano, also the national chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and a long-time partner of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), presented House Bill 2124 or otherwise known as the “GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act of 2004.”

HB 2124 stated that “genetic engineering in food crops is relatively new. However, there have been many cases discovered which should tell us that genetically modified products could seriously harm human beings and the environment.”

“The threat from genetically-engineered crops and food products is rising in the Philippines. A number of food products sold in our supermarkets and groceries have been found to contain GMOs,” the bill added.

The bill also states that “we cannot underestimate the known and suspected environmental health risks inherent in the unchecked race to embrace the unproven technology of genetic engineering,” adding that, “other countries in the world have acted through legislation to protect their citizens and environment from the threat of genetically engineered crops and food.”

The authors of HB 2124, Anakpawis Reps. Mariano and Crispin Beltran, Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teodoro Casiño, and Joel Virador, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza, and Reps. Abraham Mitra and Lorenzo Tañada III, however stressed that “the filing of the bill does not mean that its authors are against the use of science and technology in food and agriculture.”

“On the contrary, the proponents of this bill firmly believe in using science to serve the people and society. But they are strongly opposed to the use of science that will benefit only a few and worse, harm people and damage the environment,” the authors said.
Dangers of Agrochemicals

Dr. Romeo Quijano, a toxicologist from the University of the Philippines an president of PAN Philippines, shared his expert opinion on the dangers of pesticides and GMOs, as well as his wealth of experience in battling the presence of agrochemicals in the country.

He said that even though there is abundant and clear evidence of the toxic effects of pesticides, recommendations of scientists are hardly ever heard by the government, particularly by the regulatory agency Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA).

Dr. Quijano, a former adviser to the FPA, recalled that when Thiodan’s horrifying on banana plantation workers became big news in the early ‘90s, the FPA dissolved their advisory group instead of heeding their advice to ban the pesticide.

He deplored the fact that pesticides banned in developed countries are sold widely in the Philippines. According to him, the continued proliferation of internationally banned pesticides is a violation of the people’s right to health and healthful ecology.

Dr. Quijano also assailed GMOs, saying that these products are sold by the same companies that packaged pesticides as safe and essential farming inputs.

“If they lied before about their products, will we, as consumers, still believe the same about GMOs?” he said.

He cited the findings by the norwegian scientist Dr. Terje Traavik about the allergic reactions of villagers exposed to GM crops in Cotabato recently.

Dr. Quijano said that many alternatives to agrochemicals exist, which do not risk the future of the whole planet for the sake of big agrochemical TNCs.

Testimonies of farmers

Former International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) workers from Laguna testified in front of the congressmen about the ruin heavy exposure to chemicals like Furadan, Lindane and Thiodan, brought upon their lives.

IRRI occupied the lands of hundreds of farmers in Laguna and used them to experiment with high-yielding rice varieties and launch the Green Revolution in the Philippines.

Aurelio Mercado, who worked for 20 years with IRRI and was taken off the job, is suffering from various ailments along with other co-workers, some of which have already passed away in the course of their struggle against IRRI.

Meanwhile, a farmer-leader from the Cordillera region, Julian Gayumba, said that pesticide factories introduced them to the chemicals through monthly education pesticides. Now, farmers in the country’s premier “vegetable bowl”are all extensive users of pesticides.

He complained that pesticide use is increasing in quantity and levels of toxicity because of the immunity pests develop to them over the years.

“Before, we spray pesticides twice a month. Now, we have to apply them every after 4-5 days,” he said.

Legislative agenda

Aside from the GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act, RESIST is also pushing for an inquiry on hybrid rice, pesticides, a repeal of Presidential Decree 1620 or IRRI’s immunity from suit, and land reform.

But it seems that getting these initiatives passed into law is still a long and arduous task.

Atty. Ping Peña of RESIST pointed out that the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which already has 110 country-signatories, continues to idle at the Philippine Senate.

“Not even the mandatory labeling of GMOs, at the very least, seems to concern the Department of Agriculture (DA),” said Peña.

He said that the DA intentionally didn’t lay down the implementing rules and regulations for GMO entry into the Philippines. As a result, ordinary citizens have no clear information on GMO product approvals. Atty. Peña insisted on the need for an investigation on the status quo of GMO field-planting in the country.

Independent studies show that as of May 2004, 17 GMO products were found in food, feeds, and processed goods.

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, meanwhile, expressed frustration over the slow processing of GMO precautionary bills filed in Congress since 2001.

In 2001, Bayan Muna filed a resolution calling for a halt in GMO field-testing, but it never made it to a single congressional hearing.

GMO-free Food and Agriculture Act, filed last August 4, also has yet to receive serious attention from the big power plocs in the Philippine Congress.

However, legislators who attended the forum remained optimistic that their efforts would find some headway, with the strong support from the public.

Rep. Del de Guzman, who filed a separate bill on mandatory labeling, emphasized its’ importance in order to educate and empower consumer on GMOs, which for its huge impact remains a relatively unknown issue in the country.

Rep. Tañada III, meanwhile, vowed to take up the issues on pesticides and GMOs in the country’s preparations for the World Trade Organization talks, of which he is part of.

Representatives of other congressmen expressed concern of how a GMO ban would affect the country’s already fragile economy.

Dr. Quijano responded that on the contrary, continued patronage of GMO products would be disastrous for trade, since countries around the world are beginning to reject GMOs.

He also informed and warned the lawmakers against moves of the US, in which most agrochemical TNCs are based, to coerce sovereign governments who ban or restrict GMOs to revert their decisions through threats of trade sanctions.

“The US is the number one promoting force of GMOs in the world. The only counter-force that exists for that is resistance from the people,” Dr. Quijano concluded.

©heal toxics, 2003
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People’s Caravan takes off in Southern Philippines (by PAN Philippines)

Lawmakers want GMOs out of food and agriculture (by PAN Philippines)

Toxic waste from pesticides is ticking time bomb for poor countries, UN warns (by UN News Centre)

India's cotton belt turning into 'cancer belt' (by Hindustan Times)

Global demonstration against waste and pollution launched (by PAN Philippines)

Banned pesticide used in government-sponsored tree-planting project (by Pinoy Weekly)