Davao wants BPI to revoke UPMin permit to field test Bt eggplants

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 Dec) ­- City Hall has asked the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to revoke the permit of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Mindanao to conduct the field testing of the genetically-modified eggplants in the city.

Mayor Sara Duterte said UP Mindanao failed to notify the city about the conduct of the field tests, a crucial requirement in the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 governing the conduct of the field trials.

The mayor also said UP Mindanao officials admitted the “lapses in procedure” in a dialogue last Friday. UP Mindanao officials had asked the city in a meeting which stretched up to two hours, to “leave the eggplants alone” while they start the consultation rounds.

“They wanted us to reverse the procedure,” Duterte said. “They wanted to start the consultations without uprooting the Bt Eggplants but I said no, it’s not the duty of the city government to answer the question.”

She said that right now all the questions about Bt Eggplant have been “directed at the city government when the city is not part of the project in the first place. They should have answered all these questions before they were issued the permit,” the mayor said.

The city sent their request to BPI Friday, as the City Agriculturist Office went to oversee the uprooting of about 1,600 pieces of genetically-modified eggplants planted in an experimental lot inside UP Mindanao campus in Mintal.

“Our contention was, there was one crucial provision that UP failed to comply in the conduct of the field tests,” Duterte said. “They failed to post the public information sheet which was a notice to the city government that they’re going to conduct the field trials. The PIS will allow the city to refer it to the City Council, who will in turn, conduct committee hearings so that it will go through the full round of public consultations. It’s only until then that we can send BPI some feedback before the issuance of the permit,” she added.

She said UP Mindanao failed to produce a received copy of their public information sheet sent to the city government, refuting the school’s repeated claims earlier they had consulted with barangay and city officials.

She also said that UP Mindanao can apply and start the whole process, this time going through the full round of public consultations.

Duterte on December 13 issued a “cease and desist” order warning UP Mindanao that the city government will uproot the eggplants. Duterte had asked UP Mindanao to give her a received copy of the information they allegedly posted at City Hall.

City Agriculturist Leonardo Avila said UP Mindanao merely ignored the order. He said it was only when he called UP Mindanao authorities that he was on his way to uproot the eggplants that the school said they wanted a five-day reprieve.

City Hall received a letter from Prof. Vicente Calag, UP Mindanao officer-in-charge, asking the city government for a five day reprieve to file a motion for reconsideration on December 16, or three days after the mayor’s cease and desist order.

Duterte denied the request.

On December 17, Avila went to the field test site and waited until a team from UP Mindanao uprooted the eggplants.

“They (UP Mindanao) have to stop first and go back to zero because it seems that we mean different things when we say ‘strictly confined field trial’,” said Avila.

He said the cyclone fence erected around the experiment site is not “confined” enough as far as city officials are concerned.

In a November 9 statement, UP Mindanao said the nature of the UP Mindanao experiment is a “confined field trial, not the open field trial that the anti-GMO movement has misled the Davao community about. Thus, our activity is consistent with the wishes of the Davao City Officials for safety assurances. The nature of our experiment could have been clarified in any of the seminars presented above, if only people asked and if only they were prepared to listen.”

It added that in accordance with the protocol prescribed by the DA’s AO8, “a confined field trial means all the plant materials will be destroyed after taking data (nothing will be eaten, nothing will be left in the experimental site). It also means that access to the trial site will be restricted to those authorized by the Bureau of Plant Industry, the statutory body responsible for regulation of this trial. Science-based precautions will be taken to prevent the movement of seed or pollen outside of the experimental area.”

Dr. Desiree Hautea, product development manager of Bt Eggplant, said during the December 9 forum at UP Mindanao that the Bt Eggplant will stop the farmers’ dependence on pesticides in their fight against the eggplant fruit and shoot borer, the pest that eats up most of the farmers’ yield.

Hautea is also the coordinator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program in Southeast Asia. Some organic farmers in Calinan, however, said they were not bothered at all by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer because they can easily wipe them out by spray they concoct out of chilli and panyawan leaves.

“I’m not worried at all by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer but I’m worried that the genetically modified eggplant will kill organic farmers like us because it will contaminate local varieties,” said Tranquilina Alibango, the 53-year- old president of the organic farmers’ group Kababaihang May Naiibang Lakas in Calinan.

Duterte also said she told the UP Mindanao officials it was not their fault they were issued the permit. “I also told them the city’s move to have that permit revoked.”

Davao City is the sixth of the seven field testing sites of genetically-modified eggplants in the country, after the Bt Eggplant has been developed in India by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco). The Indian Ministry of Forest and Agriculture had stopped the release of Mahyco’s Bt Eggplant seeds for commercialization unless it is proven that the genetically modified eggplant is really fit for human consumption.

Go Organic Mindanao and other groups opposing the field testing of Bt Eggplant in the Philippines said they are worried because the genetically modified crops failed to go through a complete series of risk assessment tests.

The first batches of Bt Eggplants were field tested in Pangasinan State University in Santa Maria, Pangasinan; in the Institute of Plant Breeding in UP Los Banos, Laguna; in Camarines Sur State Agriculture College in Camarines Sur; in Santa Barbara, lloilo City; in the Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte; UP Mindanao in Davao City and the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)