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CBCP Open to a Dialogue on Biotech use


The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is open to a meeting with advocates and stakeholders in biotechnology through a dialogue, Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros said.

Bishop Oliveros, who chairs the CBCP Office on Bioethics, stressed that a dialogue will enlighten all stakeholders and even antibiotechnology and antigenetically modified organism (GMO) groups, and all parties must be invited to such a discussion.

On Monday last week, Bishop Oliveros met with officials of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO) to discuss updates on biotechnology projects. He was briefed on the benefits of biotechnology and the common misconceptions about it.

The bishop said the CBCP is open to sit down and learn more about biotechnology. He declined to make any categorical position on the matter since Pope Benedict XVI is expected to issue the official position of the Roman Catholic Church on the matter next month.

However, he hinted it may be possible for the Pope to issue a favorable statement on the use of biotechnology.

"The concern of the Holy Father is the fact that there are millions of people who sleep at night hungry. So how do we solve the question of hunger? Biotechnology gives us an answer. And it would not be contrary to the nature of man to use biotechnology because we were created by God with a mind that can improve nature. So that is a principle that can be used in allowing the use of biotechnology," Oliveros said

Nonetheless, he clarified that biotechnology advocates cannot yet celebrate until the Pope issues the official statement next month.

The CBCP also raised concerns on the proper implementation of the regulations on biotechnology products to ensure their safety for humans, animals and the environment.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, Research and Regulation Segfredo Serrano assured Bishop Oliveros that proper regulation systems are in place.

"We are very proud of our regulatory system. Any product that has not passed our evaluation and risk assessment will not come into this country," Serrano said.

The Malolos bishop told biotechnology advocates to ensure the safety of the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, the first genetically modified (GM) crop to be commercialized in the Philippines.

DA statistics from 1996 onward showed Bt corn farmers had significantly higher yields than those who cultivate traditional varieties.

The CBCP Office on Bioethics earlier called on President Arroyo to issue a moratorium on the planting and use of Bt corn. The statement issued by the CBCP five years ago raised concerns on the risk of Bt corn against human health and the environment.

During the meeting, Bishop Oliveros clarified, "We're not totally against it. We are just questioning the viability of the product."

He also urged for incontrovertible scientific proof that Bt corn would not harm humans and the environment.

National Academy of Science and Technology president Dr. Emil Javier provided Bishop Oliveros with a ready answer. He said: "Since 1996 up to now, [more than] 1 million hectares of GM crops have been harvested and eaten. Wala namang nagka-allergy o namatay sa pagkain ng Bt corn dito kahit sa US [Nobody had an allergy or died by eating Bt corn here or in the US]." --Biolife News Service

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