Philippine biosafety regulations cost too much says UPLB study

The Philippines’ biosafety regulation procedures are not only costly, but take too long. These are the findings of a concluded study at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

The UPLB study, led by Dr. Jose M. Yorobe, Jr., found that the cost of tests as part of the current biosafety regulation of biotechnology products in the country is rather high. Dr. Yorobe is a member of the faculty of the Department of Agricultural Economics of UPLB.

Golden rice and bacterial blight resistant (BBR) rice, developed by Syngenta and the International Rice Research Institute, respectively, are currently being tested in the Philippines. Golden rice contains high levels of Vitamin A, giving the grains a yellowish or golden color, and is the hope of many countries in addressing Vitamin A deficiency, a leading micronutrient deficiency worldwide. BBR rice, on the other hand, is developed against leaf blight caused by Xanthomonas oryzae. According to IRRI, the disease can reduces Asia’s annual rice production by 60%. BBR rice could thus help increase rice yields. The National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) regulates the tests of these rice varieties.

The laboratory/screenhouse evaluations, confined field trials, multi-location trials, and eventual commercialization of Golden rice and BBR rice, in particular, require a large capital investment.

Dr. Yorobe’s study revealed that the regulatory process for BBR rice has already cost more than US$ 61,000 since initial testing in 1998. Golden Rice’s has already cost US$ 12,000 since 2004. He said that the higher price to pay for stricter regulations includes not only the actual cost of testing but also foregone benefits due to delay in the commercialization of the two rice varieties.

Dr. Yorobe also observed that for every year of delay in commercialization, the country loses money from regulation expenses instead of benefiting from these technologies. It would take about three years or more for the BBR rice and Golden rice to be released commercially.

A 2002 study by the University of Bonn in Germany found that Golden Rice can provide as much as US$ 127 M yearly to the Philippine economy in terms of reduced mortality and disability from vitamin A deficiency. Dr. Yorobe, for his part, estimated that BBR Rice can provide, as much as P1.5 B, in offset to the damage caused by bacterial leaf blight in the Philippines.

Dr. Yorobe recommends in his study that NCBP take a second look at the biosafety regulatory process, citing that some regulatory procedures may be redundant while others may be done at a much lower cost. Cost-cutting should be made, of course, without compromising biosafety.

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