THE government will convene a technical working group (TWG) before the end of the year to flesh out issues concerning a Department of Agriculture (DA) regulation on the use, testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that the Supreme Court struck down last week, saying it was null and void.
DA AO No. 8 released in 2002 regulates the importation and release to the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told reporters that the multi-agency TWG will review scientific and technical work program as well as strengthen the policy and implementation framework that would allow the continued application of GMOs in the Philippines.
“We will convene the technical working group before the year ends. By second week of January next year, we will start consultations to harmonize the rules and regulations of AO8,” Alcala said.
The TWG will consist of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of Health (DOH).
Last week, the high tribunal struck down the 2002 regulation and temporarily stopped the government from accepting applications for field testing, propagating, and importing GMOs until new rules were formulated.
“Any application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms is temporarily enjoined until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with the law,” it said.
The SC said that the DA’s administrative order failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety set in Executive Order No. 514, which established the National Biosafety Framework.
It also ordered the government to prepare an immediate plan of action to rehabilitate field trial sites and protect, preserve, and conserve the environment, and recommend policies and measures to reform the present regulatory process.
“We hope that by doing a consultation early next year, we can issue a new administrative order that would coincide with the executive order,” Alcala said.
“The problem with the implementation of AO8 is that it was issued in 2002, long before former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed EO 514. Kumbaga, mas nauna ang kalesa kumpara sa kabayo [In a sense, the cart came before the horse],” he added.
The DA chief said they expect to come up with a joint administrative order following a new round of consultation process with various stakeholders, including scientists, implementers, members of the academe, farmers’ organizations, and local drug manufacturers and foods processors.
The Philippine Maize Federation, Inc. earlier assailed the SC ruling permanently banning the field trials of genetically modified crops, particularly as it came alongside a ruling to permanently halt the development of Bt eggplant following a case filed by a group led by the Philippine unit of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“We believe that the government is initiating a time bomb, which will explode sooner than later. That time bomb is hunger,” PhilMaize president Roger Navarro earlier said.
The order effectively halts Manila’s imports of genetically modified corn and soybean meal, which are the raw materials for animal feeds, from the United States and other countries.
The official also noted that there are 12 million farmers dependent on corn for livelihood and that the SC decision would not only affect their income but would also result in massive displacement in the sector and disrupt the GMO chain.
At present, about 800,000 hectares are dedicated to GM corn in the country. Of the 7.5 million metric tons of grains produced in 2014, about 4 million MT were GM corn.
“If we’re going to stop cultivation and importation of these grains, where are we going to source our raw materials for feeds,“ Navarro said.
“Clearly it will send a chilling effect not only to corn farmers, but it will also force feed mills and other stakeholders. . . to close shop,” Navarro said.