Biotech advocates seek reversal of SC decision banning Bt talong field tests

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LOS BANOS, Laguna (MindaNews/11 December) — A network of biotechnology advocates is set to launch a nationwide campaign to counter the Supreme Court’s (SC) recent decision that permanently stopped the field testing of the transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt talong and voided a key government policy on biotechnology adoption.

Reynaldo Cabanao, national president of the Asian Farmers Network (ASFARNET)-Philippines, said Friday they have started to mobilize their ranks for the massive signature drive urging for the reversal of the SC decision.

Cabanao, a farmer leader from Malaybalay City said they will also hold a series of consultations and awareness campaigns among their members and farmers at the grassroots level regarding the matter.

ASFARNET-Philippines is composed of farmers associations under the regional agriculture and fisheries councils and regional farmers action councils.

The network has chapters in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

“We will also hold regional mobilizations and later at the SC to show our strong opposition to its ruling,” Cabanao told reporters at the sidelines of the National Agri-Biotechnology Congress at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) campus here.

The ASFARNET-Philippines board unanimously endorsed a resolution on Thursday afternoon, expressing disappointment over the SC decision, which came out last Tuesday, Dec. 8.

The court upheld a ruling issued by the Court of Appeals in May 2013 that stopped the field trials for the genetically modified eggplant due to safety concerns.

The SC also declared null and void the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order No. 08, series of 2002.
AO No. 8 provides for the “Rules and Regulations for the Importation and Release into the Environment of Plants and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Technology.”

The SC ruling stopped applications for field testing, contained use, propagation and importation of genetically modified organisms, pending the promulgation of a new administrative order.

Dr. Gil Saguiguit Jr., director of the Los Banos-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, said the SC ruling is a big challenge to the country’s biotechnology initiatives and the entire agriculture sector.

He said it has held back the advances made by scientific institutions and researchers working on agricultural biotechnology.

UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding is at the forefront of the research on Bt talong while the International Rice Research Institute is currently conducting advanced trials on the golden rice.

“If we stop the experiments what will happen to us now? Other countries are currently using and experimenting biotechnology. So with this (SC ruling), our agriculture sector will be left behind again,” he said.

Saguiguit refused to comment on the SC decision as they have yet to get a copy and study it but noted that they are very much concerned about it.

As to the controversy regarding the safety of biotechnology crops or products, he said those claiming that they are not should prove them properly.

“If they say it’s not safe, then they should prove it. Because when we say it’s safe, we can adequately prove it,” he said.
Saguguit said there are enough scientific evidences that have proven the safety of biotechnology products to human health and the environment, and its potentials in addressing the problems of a growing population.

He said the ongoing experiments, which follow stringent processes, are also meant to ensure that nothing will be comprised when it comes to safety.

“How can you prove that something is safe or not if you do not allow experimentation? As a research and educational institution, our stand is for us to always go back to evidences and scientific proofs,” he added.

Field tests on Bt talong were done in some areas of Mindanao. One of these was at the UP Mindanao campus in Davao City which was ordered stopped by the city government in response to protests by environment groups. (MindaNews)

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