800 Philippine Protesters Uproot Transgenic Corn

MALTANA, Mindanao, Philippines, August 29, 2001 (ENS) - About 800 farmers, church members, students and other citizens stormed Monsanto's experimental field in the southern Philippines this morning, uprooting all genetically engineered Bt-corn plants.

The "operation uproot" took only five to 10 minutes, according to Masipag, the Farmer Scientist Partnership for Development. Two police officers were helpless to stop the action, and no one was arrested.

"Faster! Faster!" the protesters shouted as they hurriedly uprooted the genetically engineered corn. The target of their anger was the 1,700 square meter experimental field of Monsanto's Agroseed in Maltana village, Tamapakan town, locate in South Cotabato province, on the island of Mindanao.

Around 100 indigenous Lumads also took part in the protest action, the first of its kind in the country's history of protest against genetically modified crops.


Monsanto's Bt corn (Photo courtesy Monsanto)
Monsanto officials were not immediately available for comment.

Agroseed is currently conducting a multilocation open field testing of Bt-Corn in around 30 sites in Luzon and Mindanao amid cries of protests from various sectors in the country.

In 1999, Monsanto ignored multisectoral opposition, including a series of City Council resolutions in General Santos City in Mindanao and pushed through with the first open field experiments of a genetically engineered crop in the country.

Bt-corn contains a gene from soil bacterium bacillus thuringiensis, a toxin that makes this transgenic crop produce its own insecticide to repel the destructive corn borer.

Opinions about transgenic corn in Mindanao are far from universal. A group of farmers from Mindanao in March called for the Philippine government to allow the use of genetically engineered Bt corn as a means of increasing output. Mindanao produces around 60 percent of the country's total corn crop.

In March, the farmers' group wrote to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, asking her to rethink her objections to genetically engineered crops. "We farmers want to be liberated from the use of toxic chemicals and shift towards the use of environment friendly biotechnology like the use of pest resistant Bt corn," the letter read.

Scientists in Canada have found evidence that genetically modified crops can spread long distances from where they have been planted and spawn superweeds. But Monsanto denies that its plants could promote the development of superweeds.