May 21, 2015
'Bt corn best illustrates advantages of modern biotechnology'
The Bt corn is a concrete illustration of the advantages of modern biotechnology, the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) said.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a common soil bacterium that produces a crystalline protein that is toxic to a certain class of insect pests, but does not harm other insects and other animals.
Antonio Alfonso, director of the DA Biotechnology Program, said the power of modern biotechnology, particularly genetic engineering, resides in the technique's ability to bypass sexual compatibility barriers and the precision of controlling which genes to transfer and how they should be expressed.
"While traditional biotechnology has utilized Bt as a biopesticide in a sprayable form, modern biotechnology has produced Bt corn, which has in-built resistance to corn borer," Alfonso explained.
The Bt corn was approved for commercial planting in in the Philippines in 2002. As of March 2015, Bt corn with herbicide tolerance is planted in over 600,000 hectares of land, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry.
In 2013, the Philippines achieved self-sufficiency in yellow corn, largely because of the introduction and increasing adoption of modern biotech corn. The Philippines was also able to export 1,144 tonnes of corn silage to South Korea last year despite natural calamities, port congestion and increasing shipping costs.
Many countries including Argentina, Brazil, India, Canada, China and Bangladesh have been cultivating modern biotechnology crops.
Biotech crops already in the market also include soybean, cotton, corn, canola and alfalfa.
Modern biotechnology methods are also being explored to develop drought-tolerant varieties of corn for Africa. These tools of biotechnology are being employed to develop superior varieties of crops--in terms of ability to ward off destructive insects and diseases, eating quality, nutritional content and ability to survive under adverse conditions.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops, including Bt corn, in 2014.