PH approves GMO guidelines

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The Philippine government has officially approved a more stringent set of regulations to manage the propagation and sale of biotechnology seeds in the country, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Tuesday.

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Government agencies led by the Departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Interior and Local Government have finalized and signed the Joint Department Circular in line with the issues raised by the Supreme Court in December 2015.

In a statement, Agriculture Undersecretary Dennis Guerrero said the overhauled GMO guidelines are more stringent and transparent, noting that environment safety procedures will be crosschecked by the five agencies before GM crops are cultivated.

“The new guideline provides for a more substantive participation by the community,” Guerrero said.

The joint administrative order was based on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity – an international agreement to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) as a result of modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity. It also takes into account risks to human health.

It was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force in September 2003.

“As the first country in the Asian region to allow the propagation and commercialization of GM crops in 2002, the Philippines with its news GM guidelines will further strengthen biotechnology’s role in the country’s agriculture sector and address food security concerns in the immediate future while ensuring the environment and the health of people, plants, and animals are protected,” Guerrero said.

The government held several consultations following the order issued by the high tribunal which nullified all importations, applications, testing, and commercialization of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.

The SC earlier said DA order 08-2002 failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety under EO 514, which required a more transparent, meaningful, and participatory public consultation on field trials beyond the posting and publication of notices, consultations with some residents and government officials, and submission of written assessment, with no socio-economic consideration.

“The new rules have tightened environmental scrutiny before biosafety permits are issued, addressing one of the loopholes the Supreme Court cited when it voided the old rules, in place since 2002,” Guerrero noted.

Under the new guidelines, Biosafety Committees will review applications for field-testing and cultivation.

The DOST-Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC) was mandated to evaluate applications for contained use and confined test of regulated articles, while the DA-Biosafety Committee (DA-BC) will evaluate applications for field trial, commercial propagation and transboundary movement of regulated articles in accordance with the circular.

The DA-BC will also evaluate the independent reports as well as socio-economic, ethical, and cultural considerations.

The DENR-Biosafety Committee (DENR-BC) will lead in evaluating environmental risks and impacts of regulated articles for field trial, commercial propagation, and direct use of living modified organisms.

The DOH-Biosafety Committee (DOH-BC), on the other hand, will lead in evaluating the health impacts of regulated articles.

“The DA is now tasked to broaden membership in the Scientific and Technical Review Panel to accommodate expertise in the evaluation of the potential risks of regulated articles to the environment and human health,” Guerrero said.

The new ruling will be published on Wednesday (today), and take effect after 15 days.

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