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Biotech expert douses cold water on fears about safety of GMO products, reports DA

Quezon City (30 September) -- The top biotechnology expert of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has reassured consumers that all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) approved for commercial release, whether for food, feed or processing, are safe and pose no health risks to consumers.

According to Dr. Saturnina Halos, chief of the DA-Biotech Advisory Team (DA-BAT), these GMOs have been proven scientifically to have no danger to the environment, contrary to fears raised by environmentalists.

In buttressing her claim, Halos said none of the 44 GMO products approved by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) since December 2002 has caused any ailment among the farmers who planted them and the people who consumed them.

The first GMO to be approved for commercial release in the Philippines in December 2002 was the pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, which is now cultivated all over the country.

Halos explained that all these GMOs were subjected to the most rigorous science-based safety assessment by competent authorities and passed all standards.

Apart from the safety assessment by experts from the BPI and other regulatory agencies of the DA, the Scientific Technical Review Panel (STRP), an independent scientific body, also evaluated the GMO applications.

Halos said the same GMOs were subjected to the most stringent biosafety regulations to make sure that they are safe and would not have any harmful effect to their intended users and the environment.

All GMO applications have to pass through a wringer comprised of several layers of assessments from independent scientists, all of whom are accorded the time to check on the organisms, report their findings and subject the GMOs to repeated tests for toxicity and impact on indigenous plants and animals.

Halos also defended the process by which the BPI approves the application for the commercial release of GMOs and GMO products, explaining that government has not rushed headlong into approving products that eventually would threaten people and the environment.

She noted that the safety protocol followed by the Philippines competes with the system operating in the European Union (EU), which has the strictest scientific regulations as far as GMOs are concerned.

"All 44 GMO applications approved for commercial release in the Philippines have undergone careful review by other scientific bodies and equally competent authorities. They are as safe as their non-GMO counterparts," Halos said.

Halos added that aside from the safety assessment by experts from the BPI and the STRP, the process of approval calls for public consultations, from the initial evaluation of the technology to the testing in greenhouses, then in individual field tests and then to testing in multiple sites.

Thus, farmers, consumers, medical practitioners and critics are accorded the opportunity to check on the GMOs.

"It is a very tedious process. The BPI also conduct consultation meetings with various stakeholders and conducts a careful evaluation of the issues and concerns raised during the consultation process," she said. (OPS/PIA) [top]

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