BONGABON, NUEVA ECIJA, MARCH 26, 2008 (MALAYA) At least two farmer organizations in Nueva Ecija have demanded immediate action from the government in connection with the unabated importation of onion that cripples the local industry.

Members of the Samahang Magbubukid ng Nueva Ecija and the Association (SMNE) and the Association ng Maliliit na Magbubukid (AMM) urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to put a stop on the importation that result to the flooding of bulbs in the local market, being sold at prices "much lower than the locally produced" ones.

The complaint, they said, has been filed as early as September last year. They questioned the issuance of an unprecedented number of onion import permits but the agency has yet to act on it.

China appears to be the most common source of importation onions, it was learned.

The farmers, mostly from this town known as the onion basket of the Philippines, said their livelihood is being jeopardized by the importation despite sufficient local production.

"Hindi na talaga kailangang mag-import dahil marami tayong inaani dito at sapat na," said one farmer.

Reports said that the unabated importation is being done by some unscrupulous businessmen by recycling permits issued by the government.

Onion farming is the second largest agriculture business in Nueva Ecija, next only to rice farming. - Jojo de Guzman

As biotech crops span globe, backers cheer growth

(MALAYA) KANSAS CITY, Missouri-Food and fuel prices are soaring and farmers are scrambling to meet demand. And for makers of biotech crops, that adds up to a bright future.

Debate over the risk and benefits of such crops, which use genes from other plants and other organisms to effect special traits, still rages in many nations.

But from the US Midwest, where farmers this spring will seed new fields full of transgenic soybeans and corn, to the other side of the world where Chinese farmers are growing genetically altered cotton and other crops, biotech agriculture appears to be taking root.

"It's my judgment that the ag biotech industry has a huge head of steam," said Charles Benbrook, former executive director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences and a critic of biotech crops. "They are prevailing in wearing down the opposition."

The good times are rolling for US-based Monsanto Co., a world leader in manipulating plant DNA to make crops resistant to weedkillers and insect pests. The company's surging sales pushed its stock up 150 percent over the last year as farmers stocked up on the company's seeds and chemicals.

Corporate giants such as Syngenta, DuPont Co, Bayer, BASF, and Dow Chemical Co are also expanding their reach around the world, promoting technology they say can better help feed people and livestock, create alternative fuels and put more money in farmers' hands.

Naysayers dispute that the tech giants are doing anything more than deepening a base of chemical-friendly crops that help boost sales of herbicides. The majority of the biotech crops commercialized today are engineered to tolerate dousings of herbicide to help farmers kill weeds easier.

But biotech backers say the proof is in the bottom line. Acreage planted to the many different biotech crops is expanding around the world as prices for food and fuel rise rapidly and demand for corn, soybeans and other crops increases in Asia, Latin America and other growing economies.

"It is being recognized that biotechnology is important," said Paul Schickler, president of DuPont agricultural unit Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

China is a key area of expansion. Both DuPont and BASF have formed alliances there to accelerate transgenic crop research in corn, beans and rice. China has already embraced biotech cotton: an estimated 7 million Chinese farmers planted seeds last year that are engineered to resist certain insects.

Like many other nations, China has been slow to embrace biotech crops as food. Indeed, the country has been a key world supplier of non-GMO soy and corn. But biotech rice varieties, with strains resistant to pests and diseases, are in line for approval.

India, which likewise has seen rapid adoption of biotech cotton, is also targeted for growth, though it still has not embraced biotech crops for food.

Last month, South Korea did cross that line by making its first purchase of genetically modified corn for food. Premiums for conventional, non-GMO U.S. corn have trebled from $10-$15 a ton a year ago and drove South Korea to the switch.

Latin America is also seen as a growing opportunity for biotech crop promoters. Brazil last month gave clearance for two new varieties of GMO corn to be used for food, and scientists are testing GMO sugar cane. Argentina, already a big producer of biotech soybeans, recently approved a new GMO corn.

Still, there are many who believe biotech crops do more to fatten corporate earnings and investor bank accounts than help farmers or the environment. They cite increased use of chemicals, creation of "superweeds" and potential health problems among the concerns.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth said last month that use of biotech crops engineered to tolerate Monsanto's Roundup herbicide has led to large increases in herbicide use, which in turn has spawned an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds in the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

Scientists have reported glyphosate-resistant weeds infesting 2.4 million acres in the United States alone, making farmers use more and different chemicals to kill the "superweeds," according to the group.

Opponents also warn that farmers are being trapped into a cycle of dependence on the corporate giants who patent the biotech seeds they develop. Traditionally farmers saved seed from harvested crops. But if they plant a biotech variety, they must buy new seed every season at ever higher prices.

There are also concerns that biotech food may do long-term damage to human health. Biotech crop critics say GM foods have the potential to contribute to a range of health problems. - Reuters

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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