A party-list lawmaker on Wednesday pushed for the immediate passage of a bill that aims to eliminate the regulatory complications hampering the commercial release of biotechnology products like golden rice, mitigate the effects of climate change, promote competitiveness, and combat poverty.
Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA, who chairs the House committee on economic affairs, expressed optimism that the House leadership will prioritize the enactment of House Bill 3372, otherwise known as the Modern Biotechnology Act when Congress resumes session on Jan. 20.
Garin’s statement came in response to the Dec. 10 approval of the biosafety permit for GR2E Golden Rice, which is seen to address the serious case of Vitamin A deficiency or “hidden hunger” among children and pregnant women.
The Philippine government approved the biosafety permit of GR2E FFP use after it concluded that the GM crop, which seeks to reduce VAD, is as “safe” for human consumption as the conventional staple.
Garin, a proponent of biofortification since the 17th Congress, backed the agricultural milestone, saying the significant contribution of biotechnology to agricultural development will help bioengineered products more accessible to all Filipinos.
“We are trying to dispel the notion that commercially-produced biofortified goods are potentially dangerous. This is a victory for science, agriculture, and all Filipinos. It is time that safe and responsible use of biotechnology be included in the Philippine toolkit to meet national development goals,” she added.
The National Economic and Development Authority has recognized agricultural biotechnology as a priority sector and has a direct impact on AmBisyon Natin 2040.
The 2015 statistics show that the average poverty incidence in the Philippines is about 21.6 percent and is highest among farmers at 34.4 percent. Garin maintained that biotechnology will increase yields and better products, leading to more income for farmers.
Upon the enactment of the bill, the Biotechnology Authority of the Philippines shall be established as a policy-making body and an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology responsible for reviewing, improving, and implementing biosafety regulations for products of modern biotechnology. Additionally, BioAP shall ensure that the biosafety regulations are science-based and simplified with a product-based and not a process-based approach.
To promote the responsible use of biotechnology, the bill also proposes the penalization of unauthorized destruction of biotech crops, sale or distribution of fake Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds. A fine of five hundred thousand pesos (Php 500,000) and/or imprisonment for two (2) years shall be imposed on individual violators. If the violation is made by an organization or an institution, a fine of ten million (Php 10,000,000) and/or suspension of the privilege to operate within the Philippines shall be imposed.
The bill is pending with the Committee on Science and Technology.