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New Plant Breeding Techniques enables us to accelerate the development of crop varieties as compared to conventional breeding, it opens up opportunities to further improve our approach in agriculture. “ -Department of Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña.

Last 10 February 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) exerted its efforts in disseminating innovative information on the New Plant Breeding Techniques (NBTs) or Plant Breeding Innovations (PBIs) to our local scientists, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders through a webinar.

“It creates the ability to breed crops and grasses that perform better with fewer inputs reducing costs to farmers and reducing impacts on the environment, and it creates the ability to breed plants that can adapt to the challenges of climate change” said DOST Secretary and NCBP Chair Fortunato T. de la Peña.

Secretary de la Peña underscored the value of the issuance of the NCBP’s policy on Plant Breeding Innovation as a way to provide the best science and technology intervention to our agricultural sector.

Together with Secretary de la Peña, Dr. Donald MacKenzie, Executive Director, Institute for International Crop Improvement (IICI) from Danforth Plant Science Center and Dr. Szabolcs Ruthner, Regulatory Affairs Manager of the International Seed Federation (ISF) highlighted the benefits of genome editing in agriculture.

Dr. Martin Lema, formerly Chair of the National Biosafety Commission, and Adjunct Professor, Quilmes National University in Argentina, and Dr. John McMurdy, Director for Emerging Markets and Development Partnerships, CropLife International (CLI) provided insight on the “Regulatory System in Latin America” and the “Comparative Policies Around the Globe on PBI/NBTs”, respectively.

For our four foreign resource persons, there are commonalities in the views expressed, that is:

  • Plant breeding by whatever method used (conventional, modern biotechnology, NBTs/PBI) aims to develop better crop varieties that address both the growers’ and consumers’ concerns, production constraints for growers and food/feed quality for consumers;
  • As new tools evolve, so do regulations. Different countries have different regulatory systems that range from overly restrictive to more pragmatic;
  • For growers and consumers to realize the benefits, regulations should be science-based or evidence-based, predictable and time-bound.

Aside from the international perspectives, the webinar also featured our prominent Filipino scientists who continuously strived to innovate and upgrade the standards of our agricultural biotechnology and productivity without compromising biosafety and risk to biodiversity.

Dr. Reynante Ordonio from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) discussed the “Regulatory Approaches for the Products of New Breeding Techniques”, describing in details the different gene editing techniques which are covered by the NBT Resolution/Policy. He was followed by Ms. Ma. Lorelie U. Agbagala, DOST-Assistant Scientist and NCBP’s Head Secretariat who presented the NCBP Resolution on PBIs/NBTs which was the focus of the webinar. The Resolution clearly states that NBT/PBI-derived GM plants and plant products will be regulated under Joint Department Circular#1 s2016 while NBT/PBI-derived non-GM plants and plant products will not be subject to regulation under this Circular.

Another topic of interest was the presentation on “Products being developed in the Philippines through the use of PBIs/NBTs delivered by Dr. Gabriel Romero, Executive Director of the Philippine Seed Industry Association (PSIA). He gave examples of studies/projects on gene editing conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Institute of Plant Breeding in UPLB (UPLB-IPB) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

How the NBT policy/resolution will be implemented was presented by Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, Director of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). He presented a draft process flow to show the step-by-step procedure for the formal determination of PBI products intended for commercial use, either for food, feed or for processing and for commercial propagation. Although the rules and regulations for NBT/PBI products are still in the drawing board, there is a consensus that assessment must be product-based, not process-based and decision must be based on sound science.

Dr. Violeta Villegas, Biological Scientist of the DOST- Biosafety Committee ably provided the synthesis of the webinar.  

The event was capped off with the Closing Remarks delivered by the Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio S. Sebastian who ardently stated:

“We meet amidst the very challenging period for Philippine Agriculture, reeling from the impact of what we called a perfect storm or the combination of volcanic eruption, a pandemic, African Swine fever, and a strong typhoon in 2020.

 Science offers workable solution to these lingering and emerging challenges and it is for this reason that we welcome the conduct of this webinar on New Plant Breeding Techniques or Plant Breeding Innovation. “