In my opinion, genetically modified foods (GMF) are alright as long as: (1) they are not harmful to human health; and (2) they do not harm the environment. Being safe means that they have passed international risk assessments, such that of the Codex Alimentarius of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO). Issues such as allergenicity, gene transfer, and outcrossing should be properly addressed. With regards to environmental safety, evaluation of the characteristics of the GMF and its effects and stability in the environment should be thoroughly examined. FAO and WHO can also assist in determining in this area. These two (2) factors should be backed by hard scientific evidence since GMF is a touchy issue.
Arguably, GMF has a number of benefits which can be used to feed the burgeoning world population. For crops, it could be in the areas of insect resistance, virus resistance, and herbicide tolerance (as mentioned in the lecture last January 24, 2010). Other potential benefits of GMF include: (1) enhanced taste and quality; (2) reduced maturation time; (3) increased nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance; and (4) improved products and growing techniques.
For animals, there are also many potential benefits. These include: (1) increased resistance to diseases, productivity, hardiness, and feed efficiency; (2) better yields of meat, eggs, and milk; and (3) improved animal health and diagnostic methods. For the environment, these means: (1) "friendly" bio-herbicides and bio-insecticides; (2) conservation of soil, water, and energy; (3) bio-processing for forestry products; (4) better natural waste management; and (5) more efficient processing. For the society as a whole, these might result to increased food security for growing populations.
Admittedly, GMF has not without its controversies. Among the controversies hounding GMF include in the areas of: (1) safety; (2) access and intellectual property; (3) ethics; (4) labeling; and (5) society. In the safety aspect, there is a potential adverse human health impact such as: allergens, transfer of antibiotic resistance markers, and unknown effects. Potential environmental problems could include: unintended transfer of transgenes through cross-pollination, unknown effects on other organisms (e.g., soil microbes), and loss of flora and fauna biodiversity.
In terms of access and intellectual property, there are fears in the following: (1) domination of world food production by a few companies; (2) increasing dependence on industrialized nations by developing countries; and (3) bio-piracy or foreign exploitation of natural resources. Domination of world food production by a few companies is something that I strongly feel against because food security should not hinge on them. However, I also recognize the fact that they had to invest a lot of money on research and development just to be able to create these GMFs. Naturally, they have to recoup their investments.
In terms of ethics, there are problems on: (1) violation of natural organisms' intrinsic values; (2) tampering with nature by mixing genes among species; (3) objections to consuming animal genes in plants and vice-versa; and (4) stress for animals. I have no problem with these as long as food security is enhanced (without prejudice to the environment) as a result of the GMFs.
On the aspect of labeling, this is not mandatory in some countries (e.g., United States). Also, the problem of mixing genetically modified (GM) crops with non-GM crops confounds labeling attempts. And lastly, from the society`s point of view, new advances may be skewed to interests of rich countries.
In the case of the Philippines, it is the first ASEAN country to initiate a biotechnology regulatory system with the issuance of Executive Order (EO) No. 430 in 1990. This EO established the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP). The country`s biosafety regulatory system follows strict scientific standards and has become a model for member-countries of the ASEAN seeking to become producers of agricultural biotechnology crops.
The Philippines is one of eleven (11) developing countries (and one of the first countries in Asia) to adopt genetically modified (GM) crops. In the past, corn growers in the country faced persistently high levels of Asian corn borers that infest the crops and negatively impact yields. Insect-protected Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) corn provides growers with an alternative to controlling insects with applications of agricultural pesticides. Bt corn was already introduced by Monsanto way back in 2003. Prior to its approval for commercialization, the Philippine government (through NCBP) thoroughly evaluated the safety of Bt corn (as well as its impacts on the Philippine environment).
According to corn farmers who have been using Bt corn since 2003, they hardly use pesticides and their yields have improved to about twenty (20) to thirty (30) percent compared to the yield of traditional varieties. Another benefit of biotech corn is that they do not have to burn the residues in their harvest anymore. They just allow the residues to decompose in the field to become fertilizers. The practice before was to burn them. With the help of Bt, this will not have the same adverse effects in our environment.”
One successful farmer in the use of Bt corn is Mr. Jerry Due. In 2005, he was one of more than 50,000 resource-poor Filipino farmers who grew biotechnology corn on approximately 247,000 acres (100,000 hectares) – resulting in higher incomes and reduced applications of agricultural pesticides countrywide. While corn is the only biotechnology crop currently grown (and providing the advantages of GMF to Filipino farmers), researchers are conducting in-country lab, greenhouse and field studies on a wide variety of crops important to Philippine agriculture which includes papaya, rice, tomatoes, coconut, mangoes and bananas.
In conclusion, I am in favor of GMFs to harness the potential of food production and security subject to them not posing human health risks and not harmful to the environment. In addition, the mitigation of human health risks and environmental factors should be backed by hard science.