Residents claim no knowledge re field test of Bt Eggplant

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 October) – Field testing of the genetically-modified eggplant will reportedly start this month but residents in Barangay Oshiro, where the field tests will take place, complain they have been kept blind about the tests.

Jonah Macarayo, barangay captain of Bago Oshiro, said that contrary to what the University of the Philippines in Mindanao earlier claimed, they were not informed about the tests and no such information was posted on their community bulletin.

“We heard that they posted such information in Mintal, three kilometers away, but nothing was posted here in our barangay,” said Macarayo.

“We did not know about the Bt Eggplant until non- government organizations asked us to a forum a week ago,” she added.

Aside from being kept blind about the field testing right in their backyards, barangay people are also ill- informed about the possible risks that genetically-modified eggplant might bring, she said.

Under the national biosafety guidelines, proponents of genetically-modified crops are required to conduct public hearings and public consultation within the community before the possible release of genetically-modified crops.

Davao City is only one of  seven open field testing sites nationwide for Bt Eggplant, the first genetically modified table food fast tracked for commercialization in the Philippines by 2011, according to the environment group Go Organic Mindanao.

The group has questioned the stealthy implementation of the field testing of genetically modified eggplant in the seven field testing sites in the country.  “They only made the field testing public only after they made the first harvest of Bt Eggplant in the field testing site in Sta Rosa, Pangasinan early this year,” said Lia Esquillo, IDIS executive director, in an earlier press briefing.

The Davao city government opposed the open field testing of Bt Eggplant, saying that it violated the city ordinance on sustainable agriculture.  Farmers fear that the open field testing might contaminate the naturally-grown eggplant varieties.

City Agriculturist Leonardo Avila said the city government opts for the “precautionary principle,” recommended by visiting Indian geneticist Dr.Pushpa Bhargava, who warned of the dangers of open field trials and the need for risk assessments before approving genetically modified plants.

“There are 30 tests that need to be done before approving genetically modified plants but these have not been conducted for Bt eggplant,” Bhargava, who was in Davao on September  30, said.

Dr. Bhargava also said that all tests alleging the safety of Bt eggplant have been done by “proponents” of Bt eggplant and were found by scientists around the world as “inadequate” in ensuring the safety of genetically-modified crop.

The Indian government earlier declared a moratorium on the planting and commercialization of the genetically modified eggplant until it is proven safe for public consumption.

During his visit in Davao, Bhargava urged Filipinos to be vigilant in safeguarding their health against possible effects of genetically-modified crops.   “People must force the government, like we did in India, to stop Bt Talong,” he said.

He also called on the government to “use the precautionary principle in disallowing the release of this GM crop until all risk assessment tests prove that they are safe.” Small farmers in Bago Oshiro have been asking UP Mindanao to stop the scheduled field testing. Macarayo said they are worried about possible risks.  “We are worried because it might not be safe,” said Macarayo.

In its website, UP Mindanao announced on September 28 that there would be a seminar-forum on the Bt Eggplant the next day,  September 29 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Lorenzo Hall of the campus in Mintal. It said the public was invited.

The “Seminar on Understanding the Science of Bt Eggplant” had as main speakers, Dr. Kailash Bansal, Professor of the National Research
Centre on Plant Biotechnology and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Dr. Desiree Hautea of the Institute of Plant Breeding, UP Los Banos. Other speakers were Ms. Merle Palacpac, Chair of the Dept. of Agriculture Biotech Core Team, and Dr. Jinky Leilani Lu  of the National Institute of Health.

UP Mindanao through the UP Mindanao Foundation, it said, is collaborating with UP Los Banos in developing a local Bt eggplant.

“Field experiments will be conducted to test the efficacy of the Bt gene under Davao conditions. The experiment has been previously cleared with the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines, and it will be supervised by the Bureau of Plant Industry  and the local Institutional Biosafety Committee, following standard protocols for field testing of genetically modified crops,” the website said.

The report did not indicate the date for the field test. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)