Fast-tracking of new GM policy shows pro-industry bias

Los Baños, Laguna – With merely two weeks and three skewed consultations conducted, the new joint administrative order being cooked up by various government agencies is expected to be flawed and biased, farmer-scientist group MASIPAG believes.

A joint administrative order on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is being drafted by various government agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Trade and Industry after a landmark Supreme Court ruling has declared null and void the DA Administrative Order No. 8 Series of 2002 which is the only policy set governing the use of GMOs, in particular, GM corn. With the nullification of the DA AO 8, all importations, applications, testing and commercialization of GMOs have also been banned temporarily, until a new administrative order is put in place.

Civil society organizations, however, have denounced the railroading of the process.

“One of the basic tenets of the Court’s ruling is for the government to fortify its processes and policies so that the safety of the people and the environment is guaranteed,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG, one of the petitioners of the Writ of Kalikasan. “Yet the government agencies in charge chose to flout the democratic process just to accommodate the demands and pressure from the industry and argrochemical corporations.”

The government argues that there might be ‘food supply disruptions’, since any new applications for the importation of GM products are temporarily banned. However, existing permits are still allowed until their expiration.

“It appears that in their haste to appease the private businesses and corporations, the government agencies missed the point of the SC decision which is to ensure the public’s safety against a potentially harmful technology by calling for policy reform, meaningful public participation and ascertaining the safety of GMOs through Precautinary Principle, and EIA.

Token Consultation

In its bid to present the proposed joint circular and to supposedly solicit comments, multi-stakeholder consultations was organized by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP), which serves as the secretariat. Notice of the consultation were circulated a week before in Luzon and Metro Manila, while only two working days for the regional consultations in Visayas and Mindanao.

“However, along with the short notice of the consultation, the NCBP also failed to provide an advanced copy of the draft joint AO that will be presented and discussed during the consultation,” said Dr. Medina. “How then could we hope to have an equal footing in the discussion if we have not yet read, studied and analyzed the document?”

“In consultations where the results will have significant impact on the general public’s health, farmers’ livelihood, and environmental safety, there must be sufficient time to solicit substantial inputs from all stakeholders, especially the civil society organizations,” said Georie Pitong, Regional Coordinator for MASIPAG in the Visayas. The notice for the Visayas consultation in Cebu City was given two days before, and still without any advanced copy of the draft joint AO.

“Add this to the ridiculously short programme and the dominance in numbers of known GMO promoters including representatives from agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, we believe that the consultation is just a token one and does not genuinely seek the inputs and comments of the CSOs and farmers’ groups,” said Dr. Medina.

Caving in to corporate pressure

MASIPAG also laments that the government agencies involved seem willing to defy the Court’s ruling that meaningful public participation is undertaken in favour of the huge businesses that are supposedly suffering from the temporary ban.

“As we understand it, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have ruled in favour of upholding our right to a balanced and healthy ecology,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman and a farmer in Negros Occidental. “The new policy then should take into consideration not only the impacts on trade and importation, but the long-term effects as well to the peoples’ health and environment.”

Seguiro added that stakeholders such as farmers’ and consumers’ opinion and stand on GMOs should be seriously considered because “these GMOs affect not only the livelihood of the farmers and our genetic resources where its impacts are irreversible; and they will also eventually find its way to the Filipino consumers’ tables where the health safety are not yet even established.”

“Therefore we have the right to be involved in the policy-making for our food and technologies, but in a genuine and meaningful way, with ample information provided among the parties and sufficient time for engagement and discussion,” said Seguiro.

As of press time, the draft administrative order has still not been provided for comments and analyses among the various stakeholders. Reports indicate that the final version of the AO will be signed by February 16. MASIPAG, along with other farmers’ and civil society groups are calling for the NCBP to conduct more substantial consultations with copies of the draft AO provided, as well as wider representation from various sectors. #

 

Update: The BPI Biotech Secretariat has finally sent the draft copy of the DOST-DA-DENR-DOH-DILG Joint Department Circular: Rules and Regulation for the Research and Development, Handling and Use, Transboundary Movement, Release into the Environment and Management of Plant and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology” on January 29, Friday. Fact remains that they did not provide this in advance, for the participants to be prepared during the so-called consultation.