'last week, the diocesan Social Action Center here raised anew fears that the controversial crop [Monsanto's Bt corn] might have again caused the illnesses that hit at least a dozen residents in a farming community in this city.
Gloria Sabit, a SAC senior advocacy officer in the Diocese of Marbel, said several residents of Barangay Rotonda here have "experienced some of the symptoms felt last year by the people in Kalyong." '
Despite ban, agriculturists can't stop farmers from planting Bt corn
Allen Estabillo / MindaNews / 23 April 2004
KORONADAL CITY -- Agriculture officials in South Cotabato today said they can't stop farmers from planting the controversial Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) corn in the province despite an earlier moratorium declared by the provincial government.
Reynaldo Legaste, provincial agriculturist, said they cannot implement the moratorium due to the approval by the national government in late 2002 of the genetically engineered crop's commercialization in the country.
"The commercial distribution of Bt corn is sanctioned by the national government so we really cannot do anything but follow the national government's mandate," Legaste said in a media forum here this morning.
Legaste was reacting to calls by groups opposing the planting of Bt corn and the use of other genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the province led by the South Cotabato Movement against GMOs.
The group said the planting of Bt corn must be stopped due to the possible risks it poses to human health and the environment.
Two years ago, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan passed a resolution banning further testing and planting of Bt corn in the province due to supposed health and environmental risks.
The ban came after a series of protests against the field tests in the province conducted by its proponent Monsanto Philippines.
The ban, which was eventually upheld by South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, came after the Koronadal city council declared the area GMO-free.
"But the resolution was just an expression of (the SPs) sentiments, nothing more," Legaste insisted.
He said the anti-Bt corn groups should instead lobby or bring up their protests to the national government, particularly the Department of Agriculture. "If they want, the can bring copies of the resolutions direct to DA secretary (Luis) Lorenzo," he added.
Members of the provincial board, majority of whom are campaigning for reelection, could not be reached for comment. But lawyer Ely Pastores, SP secretary, earlier said the resolution banning the planting of Bt corn is not merely an expression of a sentiment but a form of local legislation and must be strictly implemented.
However, he also admitted that the resolution could not provide tangible actions on those who would continue to plant Bt corn since it has no penalty clause, a provision present only in ordinances.
Last month, anti-GMO activists raised their campaign against the crop following claims by a Norwegian scientist that several residents from Sitio Kalyong, Barangay Landan in Polomolok, South Cotabato, where Bt corn was planted last year, could have been exposed to the Bt toxin.
Traavik, a scientist from the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, said a study on the blood samples of 39 Blaan residents from the area yielded positive of exposure to Bt toxin.
On August 8 last year, about 100 residents from Sitio Kalyong were documented to have been suffering from headache, dizziness, extreme stomach pain, vomiting and allergies. The documentation was about three months after local farmers planted Monsanto's Yieldgard 818, the firm's Bt corn variety, on some hectares.
Government medical experts immediately countered Traavik's findings saying they are not based on standard scientific and medical processes.
In an earlier report, Monsanto officials also brushed aside the findings of Traavik and assured that their Bt corn product has no ill effects to humans and the environment.
"We really don't know how they were able to determine such findings. I think it's a biased result considering that they came from those opposing our product," said Francisco Camacho, Monsanto technology development executive.
But last week, the diocesan Social Action Center here raised anew fears that the controversial crop might have again caused the illnesses that hit at least a dozen residents in a farming community in this city.
Gloria Sabit, a SAC senior advocacy officer in the Diocese of Marbel, said several residents of Barangay Rotonda here have "experienced some of the symptoms felt last year by the people in Kalyong."