BT eggplant opponents stage walkout

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/14 Jan) – Members of the Citizens Food Watch, an alliance of environmental groups in North Cotabato, walked out of the training center of the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan town after they learned the supposed public consultation about BT eggplant on Thursday morning turned out to be a seminar.

They started to leave the place after the opening statement of Cotabato board member Vicente Suropia Jr. (1st Dist.), chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

The seminar on understanding the science, safety, and benefits of BT crops technology was held at USM’s Café Martina.

Suropia was among the organizers of the activity, in partnership with the Research and Food Technology departments of USM and couple Dr. Desiree and Randy Hautea, both experts on biotechnology from Luzon.

Abby Pato, lead convenor of the Citizens Food Watch, said they only learned of the changes in the activity on Wednesday.

“We’ve long waited for the public hearing to come only to be frustrated of its outcome,” lamented Pato.

On September 13 last year, Pato wrote Suropia urging him to conduct public consultations about the plan of Monsanto Philippines to hold field testing of BT eggplant at USM.

Four months later, Pato received an invitation from Suropia that a committee hearing on BT crops technology would be held at USM.

But six days after, he received again another note from Suropia telling him that the public hearing is postponed and that the activity on Thursday is a seminar, not a consultation. What saddened Pato more was that he was not even invited to attend the activity.

Despite that, Pato and his group decided to come to the seminar.

After Suropia explained to the participants the importance of the seminar, Pato stood up and his group started chanting their anti-BT eggplant sentiments. Minutes later, they left the room and held a rally outside, which caught the ire of some USM professors.

The rallyists and some of the university professors even exchanged heated words against each other.

Suropia has expressed his frustration about what happened.

He said the seminar was already part of the consultation and that his committee is set to hear the opposition before the month ends.

“There is a time for everything. We hear first the benefits of BT eggplant and later the opposition,” Suropia said in an interview.

Pato said they are opposed to the field testing of BT eggplant as it will harm not only people’s health but also the environment.

“It looks like an ordinary eggplant but actually contains a toxin gene from the soil-borne bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which does not naturally occur in plants. This toxin is expected to kill specific types of insects,” Pato cited a study.

BT eggplant, according to study, was originally developed by Marahastra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), the subsidiary of giant transnational seed and agro-chemical corporation Monsanto, in India.

Mahyco has sublicensed the technology to public and private sector institutions forming the international research consortium called Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP 2) led by Cornell University in the United States and wholly funded by the United States Assistance for International Development, the study added. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)