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MANILA — Genetically modified (GM) crops are here to stay, particularly under conditions of aberrant climate that lead to prolonged episodes of drought and strong typhoons.

GM advocates made a pitch for broader propagation of biotech crops during the 2nd International Conference on Agricultural and Rural Development in Southeast Asia (ARD2014) held on Nov. 12-13, 2014 at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.

ARD2014 was organized by the Los Banos-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) under Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr.

Saguiguit said that biotech crops may yet help reduce food prices in the long run and cut down on the use of agricultural inputs because these are resistant to a variety of pests and diseases.

Dr. Siang Hee Tan, executive director of CropLife Asia in Singapore, said that higher-yielding GM crops provide the cushion for a world fearful of food insecurity in the long-run.

A wide array of GM crops, Tan said, “allows farmers to manage pest problems, increase yields, use nitrogen efficiently, manage abiotic stress and grow more nutritionally improved crops.”

He said that in five to seven years, the world will see more of these GM crops developed in direct response to the threat of climate change and higher greenhouse gas emissions (GHG.)

These crops, he added, are corn, soybean, cotton rice, canola, alfalfa, bean, eggplant and potato.

Andrew McConville, chief of Syngenta in Southeast Asia, said that “40 percent of the world’s food crops would not exist without crop protection products.”

Dr. Leonardo A. Gonzales, founding president and chairman of the Strive/Sikap Foundation, noted that the impact of biotech crops in the Philippines was substantial based on the results of an analysis of six indicators he had analyzed — yield, farm cost, net farm income, subsistence economic carrying capacity, global cost competitiveness and returns on investment (ROI.)

The Philippines, Saguiguit said, was the first member country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to commercialize biotech crops, approving the propagation of Bacillus thuringiensis corn in 2003.

Gonzales’s comparison of Bt corn with ordinary hybrid corn from 2003 to 2011 showed the following results: The average yield advantage of Bt corn over ordinary hybrid corn was 19 percent; Bt cost advantage was 10 percent; real net farm income advantage for Bt corn was 8 percent; subsistence economic carrying capacity advantage of Bt corn was 29 percent; and ROI advantage of Bt corn was 42 percent.

Moreover, Gonzales claimed that the combined macroeconomic impact of Bt corn was P17.178 billion ($399.5 million) in 2011.

This figure can be broken down as follows: P6.945 billion in incremental farm income; pre-harvest labor savings of P774 million; incremental farm income of P4.71 billion from seed sales; incremental income of P3.416 billion from fertilizer sales, and; postharvest multiplier income of P1.333 billion.

As regards environmental impacts, Gonzales stressed, “the study showed that Bt corn seed users were more efficient by 15 percent from ordinary hybrid corn seed users in terms of land use; 9 percent more efficient in fertilizer use; 26 percent more efficient in labor use, and; 54 percent less in pesticide use.”

Dr. Saturnina C. Halos, chief of the Biotechnology Advisory Team of the Department of Agriculture (DA-BAT), said the Philippine regulatory framework for biotech crops is strict since it requires that such crops be safe for humans, animals and the environment.

“A functional regulatory system for biotech crops ensures that biotech crops entering and being utilized and planted in the country are safe for people, animals and the environment. For a regulatory system to be functional, it must be science-based, transparent, predictable, manageable and responsive. The Philippines is one of the few developing countries that have a functional regulatory system for biotech seeds,” Halos said.