1.Bad Economics of Bt corn in the Philippines
2.SoCot town bans Bt corn, pushes organic farming
3.Use of GM soy can aggravate problems for farmers in Brazil, says agronomist
In an area of South Cotabatoin the Philippines local officials have announced a ban on the entry and planting of genetically-engineered crops, especially Bt corn, as part of their moves to transform the municipality into a GM- and "chemical-free" zone and a haven for organic crops.
Coincidentally, a new report (item 3) argues that Bt corn has neither proven to be a practical, nor ecologically sustainable option for small farmers in the Philippines for the following reasons:
1. The corn borer is a pest that is manageable. There are cheaper, readily available and proven non-GM means of controlling the corn borer.
2. Bt corn seeds are a lot more expensive.
3. Yield from non-Bt varieties can match if not exceed Bt varieties.
4. There are strong indications of negative effects on the soil ecosystem and non-target organisms.
5. Farmers may be sued for patent infringement or for saving Bt corn seeds or from contamination of their crops (see item 3)
Meanwhile, the Brazialian agronomist, Ventura Barbeiro, is warning farmers there that any reduction in agrochemical use during the first few years of growing GM soy will rapidly disappear.
Barbeiro says that already in the state of Mato Grosso, there are problems with weed resistance.
1.SoCot town bans Bt corn, pushes organic farming
By Allen V. Estabillo
MindaNews, 23 June 2005
SURALLAH, South Cotabato -- Local officials here declared to ban the entry and planting of genetically-engineered crops in the area, especially of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, as part of their moves to transform the municipality into a "chemical-free zone" and a haven for organic crops.
Surallah Mayor Romulo Solivio made the declaration Wednesday afternoon after launching organic farming as the municipal government's flagship agriculture program for the next three years.
"We will work for the changing of our farming systems from conventional to traditional sustainable agriculture through organic and biodynamic farming," Solivio said in a press conference.
Dubbed "Palangumhan Aton Respituhon, Atimanon, Ibalik sa Sinadto kag Organiko" (PARAISO), Solivio said the program provides for a gradual phaseout of the use of non-organic fertilizers and pesticides in the town's 17 barangays.
He said it also pushes for the massive planting of organic rice, which had been identified as the town's main product under the national government's "One Town One Product" program.
The municipal government initially tapped the services of the Don Bosco youth training center, a non-government training institution specializing on organic farming, based in Makilala town in Cotabato Province for the training of local farmers.
To complement the program's implementation, Solivio said they will set as an official policy the banning of the entry, sale and planting of biotechnology products or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the municipality.
He specifically cited a ban on the planting of the corn-borer resistant Bt corn produced by seed company Monsanto.
"The organic farming principle essentially requires us to adopt only the traditional and natural farming systems and product and we don't intend to make any compromises or excuses," Solivio said.
Solivio said he will also personally launch a campaign in the province for the adoption of the organic farming systems and the rejection of the GMOs.
"We will make this stand known throughout the province and the neighboring areas by sponsoring a resolution against GMOs in our upcoming LMP (League of Municipalities of the Philippines) meeting," he said.
Solivio said they expect such stand to draw negative reactions and pressures from various groups, especially from seed companies and government agencies advocating biotechnology, but stressed that they will not give in to them.
"For many years, we allowed the use of chemicals and these new crop technologies but what happened? Our farmers only became dependent on expensive inorganic inputs and remained poor," he said.
"We need to find solutions to these problems and as a leader, I have the political will to do what is necessary," Solivio added.
The distribution and planting of Bt corn has been facing strong opposition from the Catholic church and environmental groups due to its supposed health and environmental risks.
But the Department of Agriculture and seed producer Monsanto have repeatedly assured the safety of the Bt corn.
Bt corn, which was developed to resist Asiatic corn borers, was distributed commercially in the Philippines beginning in 2003 after obtaining approval from the government in late 2002.
3.The Economics of Bt corn in the Philippines
New report by Greenpeace
Bt Corn in the Philippines was designed to be resistant to the Asiatic Corn Borer (ACB), Ostrinia furnacalis (Guenee), one of the most destructive corn pests in the Philippines. It is also presented as a 'golden opportunity', a practical and ecologically sustainable solution for poor corn farmers everywhere to increase their yields, thus improving their livelihoods and alleviating poverty. These claims are misleading. There are safer and more viable options in solving the corn borer woes of our corn farmers.
Bt corn is definitely not a biological means of controlling pests and it is not ecologically sustainable.
DOES IT HAVE TO BE BT CORN? (OR BT CORN IS NOT THE BEST OPTION)
Genetically Engineered Organisms are unpredictable. When released into the environment they produce unexpected results that could prove damaging in the long term. However, there are quite a number of readily available, cost effective and practical non-GE options that can beat the corn borer without having to resort these crops.
Synchronized planting by farmers with adjacent farms is the most common method used to avoid heavy corn borer attacks per farm. They also recommend planting corn as the main crop during the dry season as more severe infestation usually occurs during the rainy or wet season (July to September).
Detasselling of corn has also been proven to be effective against heavy corn borer attacks. The tassel is the corn borer's primary food source, and taking out 75% of the tassel per fie ld will reduce tremendously the number of larvae that reaches molting when they start boring holes into the corn stem. Other pest management strategies that farmers employ are intercropping, rotation cropping, fallow cropping and planting of conventional corn varieties that are resistant or tolerant to the corn borer.
Use of Bt corn also breeds concern about its impacts on soil health because the toxin in Bt crops is present in the whole plant and is expressed during its whole life cycle. The accumulation of Bt toxin in soil is possible since Bt toxin can persist in soils for over 200 days, particularly if there is a cold winter period. Insect resistance to Bt corn is another growing concern. In a meeting with several government agencies, including the Regional Crop Protection Center in Isabela, Monsanto is said to be looking for ways to assess how long it takes before the Asian corn borer gains resistance to Bt corn. There is overwhelming scientific data to support concerns of insect pest resistance.
THE BT CORN YIELD: MORE OR LESS?
Monsanto claims that yield could increase between a 20-40% with Bt corn compared to conventional corn varieties. In the Department of Agriculture's list of recommended commercial corn varieties, a good number of conventionally bred hybrid corn has the potential of surpassing Monsanto's claims.
Among the 43 varieties listed, 11 had the potential yield of more than 8.5 tonnes to 10.5 tonnes per hectare. Monsanto is misleading farmers by making them believe that only Bt corn could yield more than 8 tonnes.
BIOLOGICAL CONTROL IS THE WAY FORWARD
While DA is aggressively promoting Bt corn to deal with the corn borer situation on one hand, on the other it is saying that biological control measures are also highly effective. Experts say that the corn borer has natural enemies in the trichogramma (Trichogramma evanescens Westwood), earwig (Euborellia annulata Fab.), Flower bug (Orius tantillus Motschulsky), ladybug, lacewing, and spiders.
The female Trichogramma lays an egg within a recently laid host egg, and could parasitize about 100 eggs and may also destroy additional eggs by host feeding. These wasps are harmless to people, animals, and plants.
Another promising biological control agent against the corn borer is the earwig since it does not only attack corn borer eggs but also the larvae, pupae and adult as well as other corn pests.
The flower bug is yet another predator of the corn borer. Field studies show that 5-7 flower bugs per plant can effective ly regulate corn borer populations.
IS BT CORN WORTH IT?
While GE companies such as Monsanto claim that GE crops reduce the need for chemical inputs thereby resulting in more savings, more and more farmers in the US and Canada, in fact, are finding that GE crops only breed greater dependence on chemical inputs.
In the Philippines, the cost of Bt corn seeds are very high. Bt corn is sold at P4,400 to P4,900 per 18-kg bag. On the other hand, conventionally-bred hybrid seeds sell only at about P1,500 to P2,700, and Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) between P460 to P1200. An 18kg bag of seeds covers one hectare of land for hybrid and Bt corn, and 20kg bags for OPVs. Fertilisers used include Urea (P800-P900/bag), 14-14-14 (P750/bag) or 16-20-0, and usage is 2 to 3 bags per hectare for OPVs, 6 bags for hybrid, and 15 bags for Bt Corn. This large quantity of fertilisers recommended by the Monsanto agent was probably to artificially boost the yield for the first crops in order to convince other farmers to switch to Bt corn.
Comparison of costs for 1 hectare of land shows that OPV costs only about P3,570 if Trichogramma is used to protect crops, and around P5,500 if common pesticide is used. Hybrid on the other hand ranges only from P7,470 (tricho-protection) to P11,100 (pesticide). Bt corn however, at its cheapest, already costs P12,100 to around P18,400.
TAKING CONTROL OF OUR GENETIC RESOURCES
Genetic Engineering is very much an issue of control. Monsanto and other GE companies are able to obtain patents on these GE seeds /crops which then forces users of the products or the technology to pay royalties or technology fees to the company. A farmer who grows any GE seed is not allowed to save its seeds for the next cropping or exchange it with another farmer, a practice which farmers in the Philippines and in other countries have been doing since time immemorial until the advent of hybrid seeds.
Even a farmer who does not choose to plant GE seed may also face the risk of getting sued from patent infringement if his field gets contaminated by GE crops via cross pollination or seed mixing. There are numerous cases in North America where Monsanto took legal action against farmers whose fields got contaminated by GE crops. Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 Million and 75 staff devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.
The most famous case is that of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer whose field got contaminated with GE canola from a neighbor's field. He has spent more than $230,000 in legal bills for the past 5 years. After several years of deliberation, the Supreme Court of Canada decided on May 2004 that Monsanto's patent claims is valid.
With GE crops, genetic contamination is inevitable. Bt corn, in particular, is a wind-pollinated crop, thus, contamination is highly likely. Data shows that 98% of the pollen may be found within a 25-50 m radius. Smaller amounts travel to as far as 0.8 km under "suitable conditions".
Greepeace concludes that:
To date, Bt corn has neither proven to be a practical, nor ecologically sustainable option for small Filipino farmers for the following reasons:
1. The corn borer is a pest that is manageable. Various groups have enumerated various cultural and biological control methods that have been cheap, readily available and proven effective against the corn borer making it illogical to invest in Bt corn.
2. Bt corn seeds are a lot more expensive than non-Bt hybrids and OPVs even with additional cost for biological control methods.
3. Yield from non-Bt varieties could match if not exceed Bt varieties.
4. There are strong indications of negative effects to the soil ecosystem and non-target organisms.
5. Farmers may be sued for patent infringement or be exposed to other legal challenges from saving Bt corn seeds or from contamination of their crops.
Clearly, Bt corn is not a viable option for small Filipino farmers. It is an economic fluke. Bt corn has shown the true intentions of the GE companies, whose main motive for forcing GE crops on the world is, and remain to be, profit maximization.
GREENPEACE DEMANDS FOR THE GOVERNMENT:
1. To stop the release of new GE crops into the environment;
2. Stop the importation of new GE crops;
3. Establish efficient and sufficient segregation systems for GE and non-GE grains;
4. Institute rehabilitation and mitigation measures for areas that have been contaminated;
5. Speed up the promulgation of legislative measures that would address problems brought about by Genetic Engineering; and
6. Allocate substantial financial and technical support for the development of non-GE alternatives.
3.Use of GM soy can aggravate problems for farmers, says agronomist Andre Deak
Reporter Agencia Brasil
Translator: Allen Bennett
Brasilia - After a few years of planting genetically-modified (GM) soy, Brazilian farmers are going to have to spend more money on agrichemicals, says Greenpeace agronomist, Ventura Barbeiro. "The advantage of using less agrichemicals during the first years of GM soy use will disappear rapidly. Without a doubt there is an initial reduction in agrichemical use, but then the problem with weeds comes back," he says.
According to Barbeiro, farmers in the US who plant GM soy that is resistant to certain weeds have found that after three years they have to use more herbicides, especially glyphosate, that is manufactured by Monsanto.
Barbeiro says that already in the state of Mato Grosso, there are weeds that are resistant to glyphosate.
With this problem in mind, the Brazilian Farm Research Corporation (Embrapa) has prepared three types of Roundup Ready (RR) GM soy seeds specially adapted for the Brazilian savannah (cerrado) region. However, Barbeiro says that is not a good solution because RR seeds are patented by Monsanto. "What Embrapa is doing is introducing Monsanto seeds into Brazilian varieties. That is not progress, at all. Farmers who use these Embrapa seeds will pay royalties to Embrapa and Monsanto."
Barbeiro goes on to warn that continuous GM seed use is also detrimental to human health and the environment. "Use of GM soy seeds will eventually contaminate rivers," he declared. "The solution is to use agri-ecological methods of farming, instead of agrichemistry. In the Cangara da Serra region, near Cuiaba, in Mato Grosso, Brazil's largest agri-ecological soy farm is in operation. People should visit it," says Barbeiro.
Speaking for Embrapa, Plinio Itamar de Souza, who headed the team that worked on the GM soy seeds for the corporation, says that they will require herbicides that are less aggressive against the environment. Souza says the research on the three types of soy seeds took seven years.