NorthCot okays Bt Talong trial but no test yet

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/08 June) — The North Cotabato provincial board has endorsed the field testing of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt Talong but actual trial has yet to commence, it was learned on Wednesday.

After months of deliberations, the provincial board endorsed in mid-May the conduct of BT Talong field trial at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan town, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center said in a statement.

Sought for comment, Rakim Tantung, Department of Agriculture-Southwestern Mindanao plant quarantine division chief, said they were not aware of such development, even as he assured that the field experiment has yet to start.

“We would know if the trial has commenced because the planting materials have to pass our office,” he told MindaNews.

Tantung added that the quarantine division will also have to assign some personnel to monitor the Bt Talong field testing, which he stressed has not been done yet.

He appealed to critics to give the field testing of Bt Talong a chance, saying the trial would be done under strict safety measures.

North Cotabato Vice Governor Gregorio Ipong said in the statement that the decision on whether or not to push through with the trial now lies with the proponents.

For his part, Vicente Sorupia, Jr., chairman of the provincial board’s agriculture committee, said that the earlier decision of the Kabacan municipal council to allow the field trial of Bt Talong, which is touted to be resistant to fruit and shoot borers, should be respected.

“The proponents have complied with all the requirements set by the Bureau of Plant Industry,” he said in the same statement.

The BPI has cleared the Bt Talong field test in Kabacan town a year ago, but it failed to gain ground due to the protest from anti-biotechnology and local farmers who raised fears of genetic contamination.

Kabacan is one of the seven Bt Talong field trial sites across the country cleared by the BPI.

Meanwhile, members of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) in USM hailed the decision of the North Cotabato provincial board. The IBC is part of the regulating body of the field trial.

In a statement, the IBC said that the endorsement proves that the local officials are “open to new knowledge, new technologies, and useful cultural shifts; that they know how to strike a balance between facts and myths; discern what is logical, vital, critical and beneficial; and weigh the merits and demerits of issues. Above all, they have allowed reason to prevail over emotions.”

The group added that the council “acted on the issue objectively and mustered courage to take reasonable calculated risks in search for more truth without necessarily losing sight of the common good of the people.”

“They exercised rational, critical and analytical thinking to generate sound judgment or decisions to unravel more science-based facts that shall eventually guide them in their future legislative actions and decisions,” the IBC said.

The field testing of Bt talong in some parts of the country has been met by resistance.

In December last year, the Davao City government ordered the state-run University of the Philippines – Mindanao to uproot the genetically-modified plant, for the proponent’s apparent failure to conduct public consultations.

UP-Mindanao officials bowed to the order issued by Mayor Sara Duterte.

Last February, environment activist Greenpeace also destroyed a Bt talong field trial in Bay town in Laguna province. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)