Head of the Bt eggplant field tests decline to reveal time and date of tests

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 Oct) — The head of the field testing of the genetically-modified Bt eggplant at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao said he feared that people might be incited to harm their experiment, declining to give details about the exact time and date of the actual planting of Bt eggplant within the Bago Oshiro campus.

“I am worried that because of the disinformation (about Bt eggplant), some sectors may be incited to destroy our experiment,” said Prof. Epifanio T. Rasco, a biotechnology expert who also authored the book “Unfolding the Green Revolution.”

Environment groups opposed to the field tests demanded the public’s right to know about the date and time of the planting because of the alleged health and environment risks that the genetically-modified crop might bring.

The environment group Go Organic Mindanao earlier estimated the planting to start this month. Bt Eggplant is the first genetically-modified vegetable “fast-tracked” for commercialization next year.

“Because of so much disinformation about Bt eggplant, I am inclined not to reveal details about the date and time of the experiment until such a time that we have corrected the disinformation,” Rasco said.

“This is most unfair to our society, which has invested a lot of money to develop this technology. It is also unfair to the many Filipino researchers at UP Los Baños and other institutions, who have spent a lot of effort to develop this technology,” he added.

Rasco told MindaNews he will reveal it “only after you have helped us correct the disinformation.”

But the environment group Go Organic Mindanao said that UP, as a state institution, is supposed to protect the interest of the public.

“It’s the height of arrogance for UP Mindanao to ignore the demand of their host community and of the city government not to conduct the open field trials because of its adverse effects,” said Lia Esquillo, executive director of IDIS, a member organization of Go Organic Mindanao. “And to think UP is a state institution, funded by taxpayers money, whose interests are they really serving?” she asked.

Rasco also brushed off the comment of Indian geneticist Dr. Pushpa Bhargava warning Filipinos about the health risks that the genetically-modified eggplant might bring.

He said the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of India, the official body assigned to evaluate Bt eggplant, declared Bt eggplant as “safe.”

Rasco also said UP Mindanao conducted two seminars in the last three months inside its Mintal campus on the risks and benefits of Bt eggplant.

He said the last seminar on Sept. 29 was for the general public, where barangay officials of Mintal and Bago Oshiro were invited.

But the Bago Oshiro barangay captain Jonah Macarayo earlier said they were never informed about the field testing and that they never knew about the Bt Eggplant until non-government organizations opposed to the field tests told them about it.

Macarayo said she has never set foot inside the UP campus to inquire about the Bt eggplant field tests because barangay officials never got an invitation.

Rasco said researchers and regulators directly responsible for the technology informed the audience about Bt eggplant.

“We have posted the Public Information Sheet about our proposed Bt eggplant experiment in the bulletin boards of Bago Oshiro, Mintal and UP Mindanao as early as May,” said Rasco, contradicting Macarayo, who said nothing about the field test notice ever posted on their community bulletin board.

“We want to do more information dissemination,” said Rasco. “Unfortunately, we lack manpower and funds to do this,” he said.

“Regarding the nature of our experiment, please assure your readers we are conducting a confined field trial, not an open field trial, that the anti- GMO movement has misled the Davao community, including the Honorable Mayor, about.” (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews).