Monday, December 14, 2015

National Food Security Needs Our Young Scientists

The Filipino youth is being harked upon to enter the field of the sciences, specifically into agro-biotechnology. This will enable the country to ensure its food security. This was disclosed by agriculturists at a recently held biotechnology convention. “We need the young ones, our future scientists and agriculturists, to continue our works for the agriculture sector, so that more food will be served on our table in the next years,” Rita Laude of UP Los Baños (UPLB) said at a science and technology forum on agri-biotechnology during the National Biotechnology Week celebrated by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) last week.

Laude, who gave a presentation on “Genomics Overview and Its Application in Crops,” said that agri-biotechnology was seen as a field of science that can address global concerns on food security.

Genomics has been in use in agriculture for some time by now and it has resulted in increasing the yields of crops, make the crops more resilient to climate change and infestation by parasites.  The sequencing of the genome of plants, animals and microorganisms has resulted in understanding the dynamics and their interplay within the whole ecological framework.

The Philippines, despite its vast fertile farmlands, might face a possible food shortage if the government will not invest in biotechnology, experts warned at the forum.

In a discussion dubbed S&T Forum on Agri-Biotech held in the recent National Biotechnology Week (NBW) 2015 at SM Dasmariñas in Cavite, scientists and agriculturists from the DOST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD), UPLB, and UPLB – National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (UPLB-BIOTECH) discussed the programs, processes, and researches associated with biotechnology and genomics, with mostly agriculture and biology students in the audience.
The other speakers at the forum were Hayde Galvez of UPLB who discussed the “Coconut Genomics Program” of the Philippine Genome Center Development Program for Agriculture, and Mannix Pedro of UPLB-BIOTECH who presented his group’s project on the development of a plant biostimulant funded by PCAARRD.

A biostimulant is any substance based on natural resources made into a specific form and applied to plants, seeds, soil and others to stimulate the natural processes of plants and make them benefit from nutrient efficiency.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The SC kills Bt talong, and takes down Philippine science as well

By: Michael Purugganan
“No consensus on safety,” says the headline as news outlets reported yesterday that the Supreme Court has banned field trials for Bt talong, a GMO eggplant developed to resist pests.

I have no words. But as a scientist and as a plant biologist, I have to speak up.

There is clear consensus! Ask the various national academies of science around the world, or the various independent scientific professional societies. They have concluded that GMO technology is safe. 

An Italian research in 2014 published a major review of 1,783 research papers, reports and other material on GMO safety in the journal Critical Review of Biotechnology. They found “little to no evidence” that GMO crops had a negative impact on the environment. 

In a review of European Union-funded research on GMO safety conducted between 2001-2010, the European Commission concluded that there is “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.” The EU Science Adviser Anne Glover declared publicly that GMO crops are safe – and was fired last year in part because she dared tell the world what the scientific community had concluded.

What the SC ruling stops is work by UPLB scientists who engineered the Bt protein into eggplant, rendering it immune to the ravages of insect pests. 

Bt is so safe, even the organic farming community certifies it can be used as a spray in organic farms. Bt corn, soybean and cotton have been grown since the mid 1990s in the US and elsewhere over tens of millions of hectares. There has been no scientifically credible evidence that growing these Bt crops over the last decade has had a substantial environmental impact. And because of the introduction of Bt crops, insecticide use has been lowered in farms that carry these GMO crops, reducing the exposure of farmers and consumers to synthetic insecticides.

But there is a larger context to this issue that strikes at the heart of our ability as a nation to harness modern technology for our own needs. 

In this one ruling, the Supreme Court just declared that the Philippines should no longer invest in this technology. They have set a high bar for allowing GMO trials by our scientists, a bar so high that no one can reasonably overcome the legal obstacles they have put in place.

Shackled scientists

The SC has just halted a major avenue for scientific research in our country, and has ceded future agricultural progress to the developed world, to China, or other countries that are using this technology to develop the next generation of crops. 

This SC ruling guarantees we will never be able to develop this technology for our own country. In 5-15 years, when it becomes clear that GMOs are the key to feeding the world, we will have to depend on other countries to provide the technology because we prevented our own scientists from working it out. 

Remember whom this decision affects. The big agricultural companies such as Monsanto will continue to work on GMO crops in their US labs, where there is no restriction on their work. This ruling affects our own Filipino scientists, those who have been working hard to develop biotechnology as one of the tools we can use to help our own farmers. The ones who are now shackled are the scientists at UP Los Baños, or PhilRice, or those hardworking researchers at any other agricultural laboratories in the country. 

In the next decade, our country will face enormous challenges. Our population continues to rise and we continue to need to import food because our farms do not have the yields that allow them to feed everyone in the country. Climate change is altering weather patterns, and we also urgently need to develop new crops that can withstand drought, salt water, or even flooding.

GMO crops provide a potential safe and targeted way to help our farmers feed ourselves. It is not the only answer to our food security issues, but every major agricultural scientist agrees that GMOs will be an important tool in helping feed our country (or the world, for that matter). 

This Supreme Court ruling has just decreed that, when we find out we need it the most, our own scientists will be unable to use this technology to bring new crops to the field. At that future day, not long in coming, we will find ourselves completely at the mercy of the big agricultural companies who have continued to work this technology out in their corporate labs. 

Our scientists had a chance to work with this technology and help develop crops made by Filipinos, for Filipinos. The SC, metaphorically, just shut down their labs. –

Michael Purugganan is a Filipino scientist, and is the Silver Professor of Biology and the Dean of Science at New York University.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bt Talong Field Trials Stopped

Field testing for genetically modified eggplant, also known as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) talong, has been permanently stopped by the Supreme Court (SC), while applications for the contained use, field testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been temporarily halted.

On their last regular en banc session for the year on Tuesday, high court magistrates upheld the Court of Appeals (CA) in permanently stopping field trials for Bt talong.

The CA ruled that existing regulations by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are "insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and the health of the people."

Using the Rules of Procedure for Environment Cases, the appellate court stressed that "over-all safety guarantee of the Bt talong 'remains unknown.'" The CA issued a writ of kalikasan against respondents led by Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippines, and held hearings on the petition.

The petitioners in this case before the SC, which sought a reversal of the CA ruling, include International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños, and University of the Philippines.

The SC, after reviewing the findings of the CA, stressed that scientists failed to come up with a consensus on the safety of Bt talong which, in turn, reflect the "divergent" and "continuing international debate" on GMOs.

"In sum, current scientific research indicates that the biotech industry has not sufficiently addressed the uncertainties over the safety of genetically modified foods and crops," the high court said.

The high court further said that GMO field trials in the Philippines under DA Order 08-2002 showed that the said administrative order does not meet the minimum requirements for safety under Executive Order No. 514 which established the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).

For this reason, the said order was struck down.

"The Court found that the NBF under EO No. 514 mandates a more transparent, meaningful and participatory public consultation on the conduct of consultations with some residents and government officials, and submission of written comments as provided in Order 08-2002.

"The Court found that petitioners simply followed Order 08-2002 but no real effort was made to operationalize the principles of the NBF in the conduct of field testing of Bt talong," the high court stressed.

Because of these, the high court concluded that "the DA lacks the mechanisms to mandate applicants to comply with international biosafety protocols."


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Science and Technology based Practices for the Phil. Mango Industry

Sustained by strong S&T-based practices, the country’s mango industry is expected to hurdle the growing demand as well as the stringent export requirements of its neighboring countries for quality and safe mangoes. These demands are seen to be tougher with the advent of the ASEAN integration. 

With Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Postharvest Quality Management (PQM) technologies serving as its strength, the country’s mango industry proves its readiness to address the above-mentioned concerns, especially after these technologies have proved to adequately address serious concerns on mangoes’ insect pests and diseases.

Developed through careful research, ICM and PQM consist of traditional and modern S&T-based practices that complement with the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for Mango.

ICM involves cost-effective, need-based pesticide spray program and improved cultural management interventions such as canopy development and pruning, sanitation, and bagging. These practices improve plant health and fruit yield through reduction of pest and disease incidence and promotion of plant growth and development.

PQM, on the other hand, involves postharvest handling practices to maintain freshness and safety of mango fruits while being brought to the consumers. It also focuses on meeting buyers’ specifications and trade requirements. These practices cover harvesting to transport. They include insect and postharvest disease management and quarantine treatments, packaging, and ripening.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the DOST (DOST-PCAARRD) funded the development of these technologies. 

Adoption of ICM and PQM has increased volume of harvest, recovery of quality fruits, and income of mango stakeholders. It also enabled local farmers to regulate the use of pesticides and other chemical inputs.

DOST-PCAARRD, through its partnership with government agencies and state colleges and universities, promotes the adoption of ICM and PQM practices to mango farmers in mango producing areas. These include La Union, Pangasinan, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bataan Pampanga, Zambales, Bulacan, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Guimaras, General Santos, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani, and North Cotabato.

The project involves Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, Pangasinan State University, Isabela State University, Central Luzon State University, Bulacan Agricultural State College, Tarlac College of Agriculture, Bataan Peninsula State University, Pampanga State Agricultural University, University of the Philippines Los Baños, Bureau of Plant Industry-National Mango Research and Development Center, and Sultan Kudarat State University.

At present, 20 mango clusters, composed of 155 growers and contractors, are provided with hands-on training and lectures on ICM and PQM. Success stories have been documented in the mango clusters after shifting from traditional to S&T-based practices.

Such stories have encouraged more farmers to adopt ICM and PQM in their mango farm.

The clustering strategy enables the experts to guide the mango cluster members in implementing ICM and PQM in their farms. Through the scheme, the members also learn from each other’s experiences on mango production and postharvest practices.

DOST-PCAARRD, together with its partner agencies, hopes to replicate success stories in all project sites and enhance the involvement of local government units to sustain the adoption of the S&T-based practices in mango production.

The research and development initiatives to ensure quality and safe mangoes with the use of S&T-based practices is one of the many initiatives of DOST-PCAARRD in connection with Outcome One.

Outcome One seeks to provide science-based know-how and tools that will enable the agricultural sector to raise productivity to world-class standards.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Possible Food Shortage in the Philippines

A bio-technology expert said the Philippines could face a food shortage if the government fails to implement a sound food security policy that encourages the use of modern, agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Harvey Glick, senior expert for Scientific Affairs for Asia of Monsanto Asia, told members of House special committee on food security that current practices in local agriculture are not enough to satisfy the growing food requirements of the people.

As the country’s population hits 101 million, Glick said demand for food is increasing each year but agricultural production remains at 2000 levels.

He said more farmers should be trained and encouraged to use biotechnology as the method of modern plant breeding allows for the development of high yielding crops.

Glick cited a 2014 research that shows 147 other published findings on the impact of biotech crops.

Among the findings include a 22 percent increase in crop yield, 37 percent reduction in the use of pesticides, and a resulting 68 percent increase in profitability, mainly due to higher yield alongside the lowered cost of production,” Glick said.
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AAMBIS-OWA party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, chairman of the committee, said it was the first time that an expert in the field spoke to legislators on the important role of biotechnology in food security.

“We need this knowledge to decide on whether to pursue it as one of our advocacies in the 16th Congress. I gladly accepted this opportunity to hold this forum because it could enlighten us, not only the legislators, but also of other stakeholders of the potential of biotechnology and the issues it currently faces,” Garin said.

Compared with other nations in the region, the Philippines leads in allowing farmers to choose whether to use modern or conventional methods in corn farming, Glick said.

He however said the government should do more and encourage more farmers to use  modern farming methods to at least satisfy local requirements.

“I acknowledge the leadership that the Philippines has shown for being the very first country in Asean and Asia to allow their farmers the choice of using either conventional or hybrid corn. Other countries are only catching up in terms of corn production, like Indonesia and Vietnam which  have only started adopting the use of this technology,” Glick said.

He said as of last year an estimated 18 million farmers were using these new varieties of corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton that have been improved through biotechnology.

Glick  said 28 countries have already given their farmers a chance to plant these new and improved varieties.

He said food security entails sufficient nutrition for all.

“The challenges of food security in the Asean is very clear: The population is growing, and the demand for food is growing very quickly. In fact it is growing faster than the production of food crops. Farmers are requesting scientists to develop high-yielding crop hybrids that are also resistant to weeds, insectpests, and stress such as drought, in order to conserve on resources,” Glick said.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Growth Industry: Philippine Native Pig Raising and Breeding

The Native Pig Industry Association of the Philippines is going full blast towards 2016. During their seminar on Effective Management for native pig breeding and raising held at the Quezon Memorial Circle last November 28, 2015, Mr. Ferds S. Medina welcomed new members of the industry association and conducted a seminar on native hog raising.

The topics included were native hog identification and physical characteristics, economic outlook on the native pig industry and tips on feeding, weaning, proper housing, health maintenance and even marketing.

The seminar also put emphasis on feeding and weaning of native piglets. The right mixture of organic and inorganic feeds was discussed at length by Mr. Medina. The need to give the native pigs access to ranging areas so that they could avail themselves on organic food.  Included in the presentation were local food sources and the kind of feeds that are ideal for native hogs.

The selection of native pigs based on proper physical characteristics were discussed as well and an important section on the health maintenance of the hogs. Common diseases were featured and the necessary steps in managing the health of the animals.

Another subject that generated interest was the EcoPig Landless Farming Program. This program allows those who do not have farmlands or a piggery compound to engage in the raising and breeding of native pigs thus generating revenues from their investment. This was crafted so as to take advantage of the potentials of the native pig industry.

The advantages of raising and breeding native pigs is that it is highly sought for the lechon industry, high value meat, adapted to native conditions, economic advantages, relatively healthy (its cholesterol content is less than the commercial breeds) and it is “organic” in nature.

The target market includes:

Lechon industry
Medical Research

Its meet products can be made into:

Organic Pork Meat 


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