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THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

23 June 2005


Dear Friends and colleagues,

RE: The Economics of Bt corn in the Philippines

We wish to bring to your attention a new report by Greenpeace which provides an in-depth look into the economics of Bt corn in the Philippines. According to the environment group, Bt corn has neither proven to be a practical, nor ecologically sustainable option for small Filipino farmers.

"Bt Corn in the Philippines was designed to be resistant to the Asiatic Corn Borer (ACB), Ostrinia Furnacalis (Guenee), one of the most destructive corn pests in the Philippines. It is also presented as a 'golden opportunity', a practical and ecologically sustainable solution for poor corn farmers everywhere to increase their yields, thus improving their livelihoods and alleviating poverty. These claims are misleading. There are safer and more viable options in solving the corn borer woes of our corn farmers. Bt corn is definitely not a biological means of controlling pests and it is not ecologically sustainable," says the report.

According to the environment group, Bt corn has neither proven to be a practical, nor ecologically sustainable option for small Filipino farmers for the following reasons:
1. The corn borer is a pest that is manageable. Various groups have enumerated various cultural and biological control methods that have been cheap, readily available and proven effective against the corn borer making it illogical to invest in Bt corn.
2. Bt corn seeds are a lot more expensive than non-Bt hybrids and OPVs even with additional cost for biological control methods.
3. Yield from non-Bt varieties could match if not exceed Bt varieties.
4. There are strong indications of negative effects to the soil ecosystem and non-target organisms.
5. Farmers may be sued for patent infringement or be exposed to other legal challenges from saving Bt corn seeds or from contamination of their crops

Greenpeace therefore urge the government of the Philippines to:

1. Stop the release of new GE crops into the environment;
2. Stop the importation of new GE crops;
3. Establish efficient and sufficient segregation systems for GE and non-GE grains;
4. Institute rehabilitation and mitigation measures for areas that have been contaminated;
5. Speed up the promulgation of legislative measures that would address problems brought about by Genetic Engineering; and
6. Allocate substantial financial and technical support for the development of non-GE alternatives.

Attached below is the Executive Summary of the report "The Economics of Bt Corn: Whose interest does it really serve?" The full document can be downloaded from: http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/en/press/reports/rpt-ge-bteconomics.


With best wishes,

Chee Yoke Heong
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama
10450 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Website: www.twnside.org.sg


REF: Doc.TWN/Biosafety/2005/G

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Bt Corn in the Philippines was designed to be resistant to the Asiatic Corn Borer (ACB), Ostrinia furnacalis (Guenee), one of the most destructive corn pests in the Philippines. It is also presented as a 'golden opportunity', a practical and ecologically sustainable solution for poor corn farmers everywhere to increase their yields, thus improving their livelihoods and alleviating poverty. These claims are misleading. There are safer and more viable options in solving the corn borer woes of our corn farmers.

Bt corn is definitely not a biological means of controlling pests and it is not ecologically sustainable.

DOES IT HAVE TO BE BT CORN? (OR BT CORN IS NOT THE BEST OPTION)
Genetically Engineered Organisms are unpredictable. When released into the environment they produce unexpected results that could prove damaging in the long term. However, there are quite a number of readily available, cost effective and practical non-GE options that can beat the corn borer without having to resort these crops.

Synchronized planting by farmers with adjacent farms is the most common method used to avoid heavy corn borer attacks per farm. They also recommend planting corn as the main crop during the dry season as more severe infestation usually occurs during the rainy or wet season (July to September).

Detasselling of corn has also been proven to be effective against heavy corn borer attacks. The tassel is the corn borer's primary food source, and taking out 75% of the tassel per fie ld will reduce tremendously the number of larvae that reaches molting when they start boring holes into the corn stem. Other pest management strategies that farmers employ are intercropping, rotation cropping, fallow cropping and planting of conventional corn varieties that are resistant or tolerant to the corn borer.

Use of Bt corn also breeds concern about its impacts on soil health because the toxin in Bt crops is present in the whole plant and is expressed during its whole life cycle. The accumulation of Bt toxin in soil is possible since Bt toxin can persist in soils for over 200 days, particularly if there is a cold winter period. Insect resistance to Bt corn is another growing concern. In a meeting with several government agencies, including the Regional Crop Protection Center in Isabela, Monsanto is said to be looking for ways to assess how long it takes before the Asian corn borer gains resistance to Bt corn. There is overwhelming scientific data to support concerns of insect pest resistance.

THE BT CORN YIELD: MORE OR LESS?
Monsanto claims that yield could increase between a 20-40% with Bt corn compared to conventional corn varieties. In the Department of Agriculture's list of recommended commercial corn varieties, a good number of conventionally bred hybrid corn has the potential of surpassing Monsanto's claims.

Among the 43 varieties listed, 11 had the potential yield of more than 8.5 tonnes to 10.5 tonnes per hectare. Monsanto is misleading farmers by making them believe that only Bt corn could yield more than 8 tonnes.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL IS THE WAY FORWARD
While DA is aggressively promoting Bt corn to deal with the corn borer situation on one hand, on the other it is saying that biological control measures are also highly effective. Experts say that the corn borer has natural enemies in the trichogramma (Trichogramma evanescens Westwood), earwig (Euborellia annulata Fab.), Flower bug (Orius tantillus Motschulsky), ladybug, lacewing, and spiders.

The female Trichogramma lays an egg within a recently laid host egg, and could parasitize about 100 eggs and may also destroy additional eggs by host feeding. These wasps are harmless to people, animals, and plants.

Another promising biological control agent against the corn borer is the earwig since it does not only attack corn borer eggs but also the larvae, pupae and adult as well as other corn pests.

The flower bug is yet another predator of the corn borer. Field studies show that 5-7 flower bugs per plant can effective ly regulate corn borer populations.

IS BT CORN WORTH IT?
While GE companies such as Monsanto claim that GE crops reduce the need for chemical inputs thereby resulting in more savings, more and more farmers in the US and Canada, in fact, are finding that GE crops only breed greater dependence on chemical inputs.


In the Philippines, the cost of Bt corn seeds are very high. Bt corn is sold at P4,400 to P4,900 per 18-kg bag. On the other hand, conventionally-bred hybrid seeds sell only at about P1,500 to P2,700, and Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) between P460 to P1200. An 18kg bag of seeds covers one hectare of land for hybrid and Bt corn, and 20kg bags for OPVs. Fertilisers used include Urea (P800-P900/bag), 14-14-14 (P750/bag) or 16-20-0, and usage is 2 to 3 bags per hectare for OPVs, 6 bags for hybrid, and 15 bags for Bt Corn. This large quantity of fertilisers recommended by the Monsanto agent was probably to artificially boost the yield for the first crops in order to convince other farmers to switch to Bt corn.

Comparison of costs for 1 hectare of land shows that OPV costs only about P3,570 if Trichogramma is used to protect crops, and around P5,500 if common pesticide is used. Hybrid on the other hand ranges only from P7,470 (tricho-protection) to P11,100 (pesticide). Bt corn however, at its cheapest, already costs P12,100 to around P18,400.

TAKING CONTROL OF OUR GENETIC RESOURCES
Genetic Engineering is very much an issue of control. Monsanto and other GE companies are able to obtain patents on these GE seeds /crops which then forces users of the products or the technology to pay royalties or technology fees to the company. A farmer who grows any GE seed is not allowed to save its seeds for the next cropping or exchange it with another farmer, a practice which farmers in the Philippines and in other countries have been doing since time immemorial until the advent of hybrid seeds.

Even a farmer who does not choose to plant GE seed may also face the risk of getting sued from patent infringement if his field gets contaminated by GE crops via cross pollination or seed mixing. There are numerous cases in North America where Monsanto took legal action against farmers whose fields got contaminated by GE crops. Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 Million and 75 staff devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.

The most famous case is that of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer whose field got contaminated with GE canola from a neighbor's field. He has spent more than $230,000 in legal bills for the past 5 years. After several years of deliberation, the Supreme Court of Canada decided on May 2004 that Monsanto's patent claims is valid.

With GE crops, genetic contamination is inevitable. Bt corn, in particular, is a wind-pollinated crop, thus, contamination is highly likely. Data shows that 98% of the pollen may be found within a 25-50 m radius. Smaller amounts travel to as far as 0.8 km under "suitable conditions".

Greepeace concludes that:

To date, Bt corn has neither proven to be a practical, nor ecologically sustainable option for small Filipino farmers for the following reasons:
1. The corn borer is a pest that is manageable. Various groups have enumerated various cultural and biological control methods that have been cheap, readily available and proven effective against the corn borer making it illogical to invest in Bt corn.
2. Bt corn seeds are a lot more expensive than non-Bt hybrids and OPVs even with additional cost for biological control methods.
3. Yield from non-Bt varieties could match if not exceed Bt varieties.
4. There are strong indications of negative effects to the soil ecosystem and non-target organisms.
5. Farmers may be sued for patent infringement or be exposed to other legal challenges from saving Bt corn seeds or from contamination of their crops.

Clearly, Bt corn is not a viable option for small Filipino farmers. It is an economic fluke. Bt corn has shown the true intentions of the GE companies, whose main motive for forcing GE crops on the world is, and remain to be, profit maximization.

GREENPEACE DEMANDS FOR THE GOVERNMENT:
1. To stop the release of new GE crops into the environment;
2. Stop the importation of new GE crops;
3. Establish efficient and sufficient segregation systems for GE and non-GE grains;
4. Institute rehabilitation and mitigation measures for areas that have been contaminated;
5. Speed up the promulgation of legislative measures that would address problems brought about by Genetic Engineering; and
6. Allocate substantial financial and technical support for the development of non-GE alternatives.
 

 


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