In the advent of catastrophic flooding experienced by provinces in Luzon, farmer-scientist network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) calls on authorities to investigate the rampant cultivation of genetically modified (GM) corn and accompanying herbicide Glyphosate in Cagayan that contributed to the heavy flooding in the province.
In the course of two weeks, three storms, two of which categorized as super typhoons, ravaged the Philippines. Cagayan, one of the provinces hard-struck by super typhoon Ulysses, experienced what scientists called a “hundred-year” flood or a flood with a 1% probability or chance of taking place each year.
While experts point out the water flow from the dam as one of the primary man-made contributors to the flooding, Alcala Mayor Cristina Antonio also cited studies that point to the yellow corn plantations and the use of herbicides in the slopes of the province’ mountains to have contributed to the flooding in the valley. As of writing, Alcala tallies 100,000 families as severely affected by the flooding, with six barangays totally submerged and 5,000 homes underwater.
Under the municipality of Alcala’s request, Dr. Fernando Siringan, former director of the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI), conducted a study on flood and riverbank erosion in Cagayan and Pared rivers. In the study, it was found out that mountains, slopes, and watersheds in the province have been stripped of native trees that are essential to the mitigation of flash floods. According to the study, some forest areas are cut down to make way for slope and upland agriculture, particularly for yellow corn farming that utilizes herbicides, killing other vegetation and weakening the soil.
“We believe that the yellow corn Dr. Siringan and Mayor Antonio pointed out is genetically modified corn. It is also highly likely that the GM corn used is herbicide-tolerant, thus the use of herbicides to clear slopes and mountains of vegetation for GM corn. We also suspect that the herbicide that they are using is the poisonous Glyphosate,” said Cristino Panerio, National Coordinator of farmer-scientist group MASIPAG. “For many years, we have been campaigning against the use of these products as it may not only affect the health of farmers and consumers but the environment as well. Now the poor are suffering from the wanton disregard of the government and corporations to the lives and livelihood of the communities and the environment!” added Panerio.
In 2018, the Department of Agriculture conducted post-approval monitoring of GM Corn plantings, totaling 800,000 hectares as area of cultivation. Cagayan has the biggest share of GM Corn plantations in 2018, with 350,000 hectares of land dedicated to the said crop. GM Corn production heavily relies on harmful chemicals such as Glyphosate, the world’s most used herbicide, that loosens the soil. Coupled with illegal logging activity in the mountains, the deterioration of the soil in Cagayan contributed to the heavy flooding in the region. GM corn, along with Glyphosate, is also being used in the Isabela, Pangasinan, Panay island and most parts of the Mindanao region.
In a webinar regarding Glyphosate, last February, Toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific highlighted the risk posed by Glyphosate to humans. “Glyphosate formulations has been found to induce DNA damage and has been associated with increased risk of cancer especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, neurobehavioral disorders in children and birth defects and other diseases,” Quijano said. Meanwhile, research initiated by MASIPAG showed the persistence of glyphosate in the environment long after its use. The study showed that glyphosate persists for an entire cropping season, affecting ‘soil ecosystem and microbial balance, and the uptake of important nutrients needed by crops,’ said Quijano.
For Dr. Charito Medina, partner scientist of MASIPAG, GM crops are inherently destructive and would devastate areas where they are planted. “GM crops are creating more and more pressure on the environment. It is not true that by using GM crops, chemical applications will lessen. In fact, the herbicide-resistant crops were designed primarily to be applied with more herbicides. More and more chemicals are being applied to these crops, leading to increased pest resistance, new pests, soil erosion, and forest degradation. Eventually, GM crops will leave our farmlands and the environment in a devastated state. We should quickly stop this,” said Medina.
Peasant group Danggayan Cagayan Valley, in their post on Facebook, has also pointed out the rampant planting of GM corn both in the provinces of Cagayan Valley. “It has long been proven that the huge amount of herbicides used and accompanying GM corn has affected vegetation and loosened the soil contributing to landslides. It is clear that the plunder of huge commercial loggers, extensive mining in the mountains and watershed areas and giant agrochemical corporations of GM corn are the causes of this tragic flooding that yearly takes away lives, destroys properties, homes and farms.” Danggayan Cagayan Valley in a statement.
Panerio highlights the need to ban Glyphosate and GM corn. “We are calling on the government to ban Glyphosate, and with it the use of herbicide-tolerant GM corn. Monsanto-Bayer, the producers of Glyphosate should likewise answer to the people who were affected by their product” Panerio furthered that “the government should enact stringent liability and redress mechanisms to exact responsibility and accountability from the herbicide producers, including just compensation mechanisms for the GM corn and glyphosate-affected farmers and communities. The government should also be made accountable as well for approving such products,” Panerio said.
On November 25, the farmer-scientist group will have an online launch of a study on the presence of Glyphosate among GM corn farms in the province of Capiz. It is hoped that this study will add to the growing number of evidence on the possible impacts of GM corn and Glyphosate on health. To date, Bayer has estimated that it faces 125,000 filed and unfiled claims over Roundup, the glyphosate brand sold by Monsanto. In 2018, German chemical giant Bayer bought Monsanto for $66 Billion.
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