POSTSCRIPT / July 30, 2002 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gov’t sleeps as GMOs slip into food products

DOES GOV’T CARE?: Every now and then, somebody high up in government says something shamelessly mushy, something like allegedly caring for us poor citizens.

Of course nobody listens, because the government is a mammoth machine absolutely incapable of genuine concern, and the politicians infesting the bureaucracy have been proved to be there mostly for the fund of it.

If government really cares for us citizens, in the same way that parents care for their children, why does it allow the slow, silent poisoning of the entire population? Why does government, which is there supposedly to look after the general welfare, leave us innocent consumers to fend for ourselves in this inhospitable environment?

Why does it sometimes take a foreign entity and not our own government to tell us Filipinos what dangers lurk in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat?

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R.P. PRODUCTS BANNED: In Saudi Arabia, the minister of commerce has just banned 18 popular Philippine food products after laboratory tests showed that they contained genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The tainted items included popular children’s snacks and processed meat products.

The 18 were among 36 products that the environmentalist group Greenpeace had shipped to Hong Kong DNA Chips Ltd., an independent testing laboratory, for testing for GMOs, according to Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia engineering campaigner.

The list from Saudi Arabia has brought to 46 the number of GMO-contaminated products produced or sold in the Philippines. Baconguis said the manufacturers of the products that tested positive earlier have promised to stop sending GMO-tainted products to the Philippines.

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WHAT’S IN THE BOX?: For fear of legal complications, Postscript has decided not to publish the brand names of the items banned in Saudi Arabia. But the products are so popular locally that one wants to scream and demand that the government, our government, itself would publish the list and the GMOs found in each item.

The products included some soy sauce, junk food, chips, corn starch, chicken chunks, corned beef, meat loaf, sausages, hot dogs, liver spread, luncheon meat and soya bean drinks. (If you have email, we can send you the list.)

When a housewife or a worker goes shopping before rushing home at the end of the day and loads these GMO-tainted items in his cart, he does so without being aware what has gone into the attractive packaging.

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FULL, HONEST LABELS: Why does not the government, if it really cares, impose a strict rule that the label lists not only the ingredients but also any GMO present in the food?

If the government is not ready to say whether or not GMOs are bad for humans, it can still impose a rule for disclosing GMO presence without commenting on the risk they pose. Just let the buyer know if GMOs are present and let him decide what to do.

The rules on labeling must be strict enough to punish manufacturers hiding or not declaring harmful ingredients.

For instance, synthetic sugar and coloring should not be identified simply as artificial sweeteners or coloring or listed as obscure items represented only by code numbers. The controversial items should be clearly identified so consumers will know if they are taking proven carcinogenic ingredients.

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ASEXUALLY PRODUCED EGGS: What is the government doing about fish, poultry and livestock being fed or injected with hormones to give them good market qualities but which hormones are passed on to humans reportedly with harmful effects?

Have you heard this report that most eggs sold in the market are the product of hormones that make hens produce eggs artificially without the sexual co-operation of roosters? This is the reason why some housewives search far and wide for “native” chicken eggs made the usual way by nature.

Why do we have to find this out from reading foreign publications or listening to informed kitchen talk? Cannot the government tell us these things before wholesale harm is done?

Of course, if the government wants to shake off responsibility and get out of our tortured lives, all it has to do is say so, abolish the bureaucracy, cast out all politicians and stop collecting taxes.

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R.P. BEING LEFT BEHIND: Baconguis said government inaction on mandatory labeling requirements has allowed corporations to “take on the role of mad scientists playing with Filipino consumers as their experimental rats.”

In contrast, he said, markets for GMO products were closing down worldwide. The latest to enforce laws against GMOs was China, whose regulations went into effect on March 20, he said.

A recent US agricultural report noted, according to Baconguis, that the Saudi ministry of commerce had banned all food products tested to contain GMOs. This had affected many Philippine exporters whose products are widely sold in the Middle East.

The report said that Saudi Arabia tops the list of nations prohibiting the public sale of food containing GMOs, harmful preservatives and chemicals.

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POISONOUS COAL PLANTS: We were talking last time (Postscript, 25Jul02) of entire communities being poisoned by toxic emissions of coal-fired power plants. The air, ash fallout and even streams in the area have been found contaminated with mercury, lead, arsenic and a host of other poisonous elements.

So what’s being done about it? Nothing that could dent the immunity that polluting plants seem to have been given by government officials who are kept on good behavior by regular handouts from the privileged contractors.

There are murmurs of supposed investigations to be conducted and stricter regulations to be imposed, et cetera, but we fall asleep in the ensuing ennui. Each hint of a probe only raises the payola.

In the Senate, a resolution was filed last year to investigate the danger posed to communities hosting coal-fired power plants. We’re still waiting for positive action to follow that excited, but empty, flailing of arms and sprinkling of stale saliva.

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CLOSE THOSE COAL PLANTS: Puede ba, for a change, let’s do something definite and positive. Considering that huge excess of generating power in the National Power Corp. grid, let’s close a few inefficient and polluting plants. Let’s start with the coal-fired ones.

Napocor and energy officials need not pretend to rush to their files to find out which are the offending electric plants. We have them listed for faster response from officials who seem to be waiting for lighting to blast them from their stupor.

President Arroyo can preside over their closure and bask in the resulting improvement of system-wide efficiency, cutting of corrupt payments for excess and unused power, lower electricity rates and the protection of the environment.

Here are the most polluting coal-fired Napocor plants, the first six of which are on Luzon: Calaca 1, 300 megawatts; Calaca 2, 300 MW; Pagbilao, 764 MW; Masinloc, 600 MW; Sual, 1,294 MW; QPPL, 443 MW; and Naga Coal, Visayas, 105 MW.

They account for a total of 3,806 MW that can be filled more than adequately by the more efficient and “cleaner” power plants.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 30, 2002)

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