By: Enrico Dela Cruz and Monolo Seraprio Jr

The Philippines is set to issue new rules next month on GMO imports, seeking to avert food supply disruptions when a court-ordered stoppage kicks in as import permits for animal feed expire this year, government officials said. 

In a landmark ruling in December, the country's Supreme Court struck down a 2002 government regulation that allowed the import of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and imposed a temporary ban until new rules were formulated.

The order covers imports of corn, soybeans, soybean meal and sorghum, among others. The biggest impact would be on soymeal, the Philippines' top GMO import at 2 million tonnes a year.

The government challenged the ban by motioning for a reconsideration by the top court shortly after the ruling, officials said. For now, existing import permits remain valid, although no new ones will be issued as they expire.

"We are aware of the urgency of coming up with the new rules," said Dr. Jaime Montoya, a government health scientist who heads an inter-agency panel that drafted new guidelines for GMO use and imports. 

Weak demand for U.S. soymeal cargoes overseas has dragged front-month soymeal on the Chicago Board of Trade to near six-year lows this month, extending a December rout partly sparked by the Philippine court ruling.

The panel on Friday began a series of public consultations on a draft joint administrative order to be issued by five government agencies including the Department of Agriculture. Two more will be held next week.

The draft order should be ready for signing by heads of the five agencies on Feb. 16, Montoya said.

Farm officials said animal feed millers can ship in GMO products until their import permits expire.

One permit will expire in March and five more later this year, said Merle Palacpac, chief of the plant quarantine service division at the Bureau of Plant Industry. 

"We are maintaining status quo since a (motion for reconsideration) has been filed," Palacpac told Reuters.

Estefania de Vera, president of the Philippine Association of Feed Millers, said her group has not received any reports of shipment disruption so far following the court ruling. 

"Our concern is the succeeding ones if they stopped issuing new permits," she said. "We hope this (administrative order) will be out soon to cover and continue the flow." 

If GMO soymeal imports are banned, Philippine buyers would need to purchase non-GMO supply that would easily be $80-$100 a tonne more expensive, traders said. 

(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue)

Originally Published: Reuters