Manila, May 15, 2003 -- Despite the continuing debate on biotechnology, the 
Department of Agriculture said it is ready to begin the greenhouse 
experimentation of genetically modified BT (bacillus thuringiensis) cotton 
in August or October this year.

BT cotton is another genetically modified high value crop that has proved 
profitable and productive in top cotton-producing countries like the US, 
China, India and Africa.

Cotton Development Authority senior agriculturist Jose Abansi said that the 
National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) said that if the 
GM crop proved suitable for local farms, it will easily be commercialized 
within four years in which the government hoped to revive the virtually 
non-existent cotton industry.

Abansi said the DA and its attached-agency, the Bureau of Plant Industry 
have been meeting to finalize the field testing for BT cotton, to be 
conducted at CODA's Cotton Research Center in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

Once the result of a contained experiment is approved by BPI, a limited 
field experimentation of the crop over a minimum of 2,500 square meters 
would be allowed to develop.

But Abansi said that BT cotton still needs to prove suitable in a tropical 
area since the GM crop is planted at present only in temperate zones.

"CODA is giving chances that BT cotton's possibility of being commercially 
planted here. It might grow here if they found it to be viable," he said in 
an interview.

In addition to its being resistant to traditional cotton pests such as 
bollworms, BT cotton have been proven to raise yield of up to 75 to 
80-percent. According to CODA, existing cotton varieties may be harvested 
with just 1,250 to 2,500 kilos per hectare, but the GM crop can produce as 
much as 3,200 kilos per hectare.

Earlier, a government official said local players such as Primatex Fibre 
Corp. (PFC) has filed with the DA-Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) an 
application for suitability tests on Bt cotton.

Another cotton merchant is Dragon Textile Mills, which has a farm in 
iloilo, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, La Union and Pangasinan.

Abansi said these private companies have agreed to put up financing 
material inputs for cotton farms as well as testing possible farming sites. 
He mentioned also considering the provinces of South Cotabato and 
Sarangani, but said the peace and order situation should first be addressed.

In its application, PFC said that with increased cotton production, the 
Philippines may save foreign exchange spending of $100 million yearly and 
even produce $200 million worth of export while some 100,000 families may 
be employed from a cotton farm of 50,000 to 100,000 hectares.

"With these advantages, Bt 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, PFC's cotton project director 
said in their application.

The government is considering a tie-up with China in order to bring down 
the cost of the technology transfer, instead of acquiring it through 
multinational firms Monsanto, Du Pont, and Syngenta.

PFC estimated that farmers' 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. The Philippines is believed to have the advantage 
of good cotton quality at par with 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. (By EVANGELINE 
DE VERA, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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