Monsanto asks Philippine government to regulate proliferating counterfeit Bt corn seeds
Feb. 6, 2018
Presence of counterfeit seeds now accounts for close to 10% of market share of the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn, according to Gabriel O. Romero, Monsanto Philippines senior regulatory and scientific affairs lead, in a press briefing.
“This is becoming an alarming issue. It is causing failure in farmers’ yield, and it will cause failure of the technology,” said Romero at a field tour at Monsanto’s seed processing plant in Pulilan, Bulacan.
While Monsanto pioneered Bt corn planting in the Philippines in 2002-2003, now seven companies are engaged in Bt corn supply some of which have not gone through the rigorous process for technology approval of the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Plant Industry (DA, BPI). Neither have they invested into technology development.
Due to the significant advantage of planting Bt corn which has inherent resistance against the highly-infesting corn borer, some companies have taken advantage of Bt corn’s success. Bt corn has virtually led Philippines’ nearly 100% corn sufficiency level particularly for yellow corn (animal feed) with 800,000 hectares now planted to Bt corn.
“They copied the Bt corn in their hybrids illegally. BPI already issued a list of authorized (Bt corn) suppliers. Hopefully that will reach (farmers’ knowledge on) procurement,” he said.
Aside from the negative signal it brings to investors, counterfeit seeds has serious dangerous effect as it threatens effectivity of the technology itself.
DA and BPI now implement a system called “refuge” system which mandates for a minimal amount of area that should be planted to non-Bt corn in order to ensure that the pest corn borer will not develop a resistance against Bt corn.
“The technology already failed in Puerto Rico because of the lack of refuge,” said Romero. “In India and the United States, the provision of a refuge is already mandatory. Unauthorized seeds pose real dangers that can kill the Bt technology in three years in exchange for short term benefits of cheap corn seeds.”
The refuge system of Monsanto, implemented in its plant in Pulilan, Bulacan plant, allows for the automatic mixture of 5% non-Bt corn seeds into each package of 8-10 kilo Bt corn seeds (with 35,000 seeds) that is good for one-half hectare.
Counterfeit seeds come in several forms.
First is the “ukay ukay” which involves pilferage or theft of seeds from seed production areas. It accounts for around 6% of market share in Mindanao and 2% nationwide.
The other one is the “sige sige” seeds. Instead of F1 or first generation seeds, these are already second generation seeds or the offspring of F1 seeds which already lose the vigor and trait of authentic Bt corn seeds.
In its seed plant in Bulacan, the Monsanto officials showed that the company observes strict quality control before the release of seeds in order to ensure farmers’ success — high yield and income.
The seeds in Monsanto’s Bulacan plant go through tests of dryness (up to 11% moisture content in order to extend shelf life); germination (which must be at least 90%); and vigor (whether it will survive stress from such as from temperature changes.