SEARCA conducts seminar on biotechnology

by Arron Lucius B. Herbon

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) through its Agriculture and Development Seminar Series (ADSS) held a special seminar titled “Biotech Tools for Smarter Agriculture” last September 27, 2013 at the SEARCA Drilon Hall.

Dr. Wayne Parrott, Professor of Crop Science at the University of Georgia, USA, served as the speaker for the seminar.

Dr. Parrott discussed about Genetic Engineering through sharing of his field work experience in the North, South, and Central American, and African areas.

According to him, Genetic Engineering, also known as Genetic Modification, is a product of Biotechnology which involves crossing in desirable traits in the genes of a certain crop so it could gain special properties such as insecticidal, and many others.

He said that it is the fastest adapted technology in the world having been used by over 17 million farmers in about 30 countries around the world over the last 17 years.

“When people ask questions or express concerns about GMO’s, we can actually answer based on real-world experience. We don’t need to be guessing and we need to be speculating about it,” he told.

He compared the growth of the GMO industry to the Organic industry, the second fastest growing sector of agriculture, through which he showed that the latter lags behind the former.

To address the problem of having a large section of the world population having no access to GMO’s, he took commercialized GMO’s and divided them into two categories of origin: the private, and the public sector.

Some of the GMO’s from the private sector include ornamental novel-colored flowers in Australia; virus-resistant squash and herbicide-tolerant rice & soybean from America; Insecticide-resistant Bt crops like cotton & corn; and worm-resistant maize in America and Africa.

While some of the GMO’s from the public sector include the Papaya through University of Hawaii, Cornell University, and US Department of Agriculture (USDA); Brazilian Bean through the Brazilian government; and other crops funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which are to be made available soon which includes the moth-resistant potato, pod-borer resistant cowpea, and many others.

The benefits of GMO’s as tackled by Parrott include decrease in yield losses from insects and diseases, which leads to an increase of income on farmers and their respective countries; decrease in environmental risks brought about by chemical pesticides, and the prevention of food spoilage.

Some issues in terms of safety of GMO’s on environment and food were also tackled. For the environmental safety issue, he focused on the prevention of damages brought about by pesticide abuse to humans and animals. While on the food safety issue, he centered on the safety of GMO’s where he told that it is as safe, but not completely, as their conventional counterparts with emphasis on the regional differences in consumption.

“If it’s been tested in the European Union, or in China, or wherever, and then they haven’t found problems, it’s gonna be safe around the world,” Parrott said.

When it comes to the Philippines, he mentioned that the country is now being a global spotlight for GMO’s through the Golden Rice which could address Vitamin A deficiencies of millions of children worldwide through highlighting its publicity from a petition, up to being an editorial topic in the New York Times.

Prior to Parrott’s talk, Philippine-based Agricultural Counselor of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dr. Philip Schull said that the seminar is part of the celebration of the relationship between the Unites States and the Philippines in terms of agriculture .

“We are the number one supplier of food and agricultural products in the Philippines, but we are also the Philippines’ number one market for its exports in our food and agricultural products. In fact, in 2012, the United states took about 30% of Philippine food and agricultural exports,” Schull mentioned.

According to Dr. Arnold Estrada of Pioneer Hi-Bred Seeds, the seminar was informative and he saw that the audience benefited from the information shared during the seminar.

Prescila Pudiquet, SEARCA Biotechnology Trainee from the local government unit of Pupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya said that the seminar made her see the benefit of the combination of Genetic Engineering and Organic Agriculture.

“Kung maisusulong natin sa rural communities, it will benefit the rural farm families kasi gaganda yung well-being ng farmers, at the same time, gaganda yung nutritional level ng school at pre-school children,” Pudiquet told.

The seminar was co-organized by SEARCA Biotechnology Center (BIC), Plough Shares Incorporated, US Mission, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), and Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII)

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