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Greenpeace hits Bt corn anew after farmer claims 'insignificant earning'
By Bong S. Sarmiento
MindaNews, 13 June 2005

KORONADAL CITY ”” An environmental group renewed over the weekend its call for Filipino farmers to shun the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, after a farmer debunked "myths" that it results in higher yields and uses less fertilizers and chemicals.

A Greenpeace-Southeast Asia statement quoted Tomas Datinguinoo, of Naujan in Oriental Mindoro, as saying that he failed to earn substantiallyfrom planting Monsanto’s Bt corn variety DK818YG.

Datinguinoo maintains a five-hectare conventional corn farm in Naujan town in the last 30 years and adopted Bt corn following its commercial approval from the government in December 2002, a development strongly opposed by groups in South Cotabato backed by the local Catholic Church.

Pro-Bt corn groups, in a forum in Alabel, Sarangani early this year, had acknowledged that South Cotabato is the "hotbed" of opposition to the use of Bt corn in the country.

The sentiment against the transgenic plant in South Cotabato was so high that on August 29, 2001, disgusted militant farmers stormed and uprooted Monsanto's Bt corn plants at a field test site in barangay Maltana in Tampakan town. The crop was about to be harvested at that time.

"After hearing that Bt corn will mean higher yields and will not be attacked by the corn borer I decided to try my luck with Bt corn. However, after planting three hectares of Bt corn, I decided to go back to conventional varieties because I did not earn more than I used to due to the high cost of seeds and inputs," Datinguinoo said.

"I was told by the Monsanto agent to use 15 bags of fertilizer per hectare which amounted to thousands of pesos and, after selling my harvest, I only broke even," he added.

Danny Ocampo, genetic engineering campaigner of Greenpeace-Southeast Asia, said the national government's decision to commercialize Bt corn has opened Philippine farms to the onslaught of Bt corn peddlers which, according to him, threatened organic farming methods.

"Monsanto and other companies have been using a lot of publicity to trick Filipino farmers and our government, in the guise that Bt corn is more economically viable than conventional corn varieties. What our farmers do not know is that the only benefit from planting Bt corn goes to the companies who own the patents to these seeds," Ocampo stressed.

"Our farmers and the general public are being misled into thinking that GMOs (genetically modified organisms), such as Bt corn, hold the promise of food security and increased income for our farmers. In fact, farmers like Mang Tomas [Datinguinoo] are being dragged into dependency on these companies for seeds and agrochemical farm inputs that continue to poison our environment and, in the long term, bury farmers in debt," he added.

"GMOs have never been proven safe for health and the environment. Forcing Bt corn into our farms does not only threaten farmers' income but the health and environmental well-being of our country," he said.

Ronaldo Cayomo, Monsanto's territory lead for Mindanao, claimed in a briefing last March in Tampakan town that based on their evaluation, farmers using Bt corn could increase their yield by as much as 40 percent compared with conventional and hybrid varieties.

"This could translate to an increase in yield of at least 2.5 tons per hectare depending on the area planted," he said.

He also said that farmers who plant Bt corn, which is developed mainly to resist corn borer, can save on chemical pesticides for corn borers.

He further claimed that Bt corn poses no threat to the environment and human health with the rigid safety tests supposedly done by the government prior to the transgenic plant’s approval.