Philippines expects to finalize GMO rules in next few days, misses Weds target

By Manolo Serapio Jr and Enrico Dela Cruz MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines expects to finalize a new set of rules on genetically modified organisms over the next few days, after a top court demanded an overhaul of previous regulations in the nation that has been seen as a trailblazer for GMO in Asia. The government had hoped the new rules would be signed by five ministers on Wednesday, but Merle Palacpac, chief of the plant quarantine service at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), told Reuters there had only been one signature so far as other officials were traveling. "We hope they will all be able to sign over the next few days," said Palacpac. Thursday is a public holiday in the Philippines. The Supreme Court in December halted the issuance of fresh permits for planting or importing genetically modified crops until the new rules were in place, putting in limbo nearly 1 million corn farmers and buyers of GM soybean meal, the Philippines' top GMO import. Proponents of GM technology warn that delays could spark a food crisis in the Southeast Asian country, while critics have sought more time to ensure there is enough regulatory scrutiny to meet concerns over public health and the environment. The new rules would take effect 15 days after being published, Palacpac said, adding that a permit to plant a variety of GM corn domestically will expire on March 3. The Philippines was the first in the region to allow planting and commercialization of GM corn, which it did in 2002, and has permitted GM crop imports for more than a decade. "We can't really rush (the ministers) because they have to examine it and they have to consult," said Dr. Jaime Montoya, a government health scientist who heads an inter-agency panel that drafted the new guidelines. (Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Joseph Radford)