GOVT UNDETERRED BY PROTESTS OVER BT CORN

Quezon City, May 11, 2003 -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) is mulling 
the first-ever field trials on Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) cotton even as 
protests are mounting over governmentís approval of the commercialization 
of Bt corn in the country.

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano said that local cotton producer 
and distributor Primatex Fibre Corp. (PFC) already filed an application to 
conduct field experiments within the year. These tests will determine the 
suitability and adaptability of producing Bt corn under local conditions.

In cotton-producing countries such as China, United States, India, and 
Africa, the large-scale production of Bt corn has proven to be profitable, 
said Serrano.

Bt cotton is a genetically modified crop injected with the gene resistant 
to worms like lipidopterans. This improves the productivity of cotton 
yields by 400 to 700 kilos per hectare from 1.25 metric tons (MT) per 
hectare to 2.5 MT using traditional varieties.

Serrano, citing feasibility studies, stressed some of the advantages of 
growing Bt cotton.

For instance, a farm size of 30,000 hectares planted to Bt cotton can save 
an estimated 150,000 liters of pesticide worth P90 million that is usually 
spent using traditional cotton seed varieties. At the same time this 
eliminates farmersí risk of constant exposure to possible-cancer-causing 
chemicals.

PFC said in its application that with increased cotton production, the 
country could save foreign exchange of about $100 million annually.

This will also boost cotton exports by $200 million and generate employment 
for some 100,000 families from cotton farms of 50,000 to 100,000 hectares.

PFC estimates show that cotton farmersā income can increase with Bt cotton 
from P15,000 to P33,000 per hectare in irrigated areas and from P6,600 to 
P24,000 per hectare in rainfed areas.

It added that the country can produce good cotton quality that can rival 
the best cotton from the US, Australia, Zimbabwe, and West Africa.

"The country has suitable climate, available processing facilities and 
trained human resources. The textile industry will likewise benefit as 
cotton is the major raw material in textile manufacture. Cottonseeds has 
vast potential for other downstream industries," PFC said.

PFC said that Bt cotton production is environment-friendly and will not 
pose any danger or hazard to ecosystems.

"Bt cotton has no effect on any living things other than targeted insects. 
It does not harm beneficial insect and allows insect friends to increase," 
said Isagani Catedral, PFCís cotton project director

Currently, PFC is working closely with the Cotton Development Authority 
(CDA) on the filing of its field testing application with the National 
Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) which ensures that safety 
procedures on field trials or experiments are strictly followed and all 
other requirements are complied with.

PFCís bid is being backed up by the International Service for the 
Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Director Randy Hautea. 
ISAA said the Philippine government is working on a possible tie-up with 
China in order to bring down the cost of the technology transfer.

The ISAAA explained that to make technology transfer cheaper, the 
government could request the Chinese government for assistance. This will 
definetely be less expensive than acquiring the technology from big 
multinational companies such as Monsanto, Du Pont, and Syngenta which are 
strong advocates of Bt technology advances. (By Rocel C. Felix, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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