JAKARTA, Indonesia (MindaNews/20 July) — The field testing of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt Talong in North Cotabato will likely begin in the next two months, biotechnology experts said here on Wednesday.
Dr. Randy Hautea, director of the University of the Philippines Los Baños-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application, said the proponent is just waiting for the final clearance from the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry to start the field testing in Kabacan town.
“The Sangguniang Panlalawigan of North Cotabato has already endorsed the Bt Talong testing. Hopefully, the BPI can give the [final] clearance in the next two months so we could begin the field testing,” he told MindaNews at the sidelines of a media forum here on biotechnology.
At least 35 journalists from eight Asian countries gathered in Jakarta for a regional media workshop dubbed “Status, Impacts and Future Prospects of Agri-Biotechnology in a Changing Climate.”
The field trial of Bt talong in Kabacan would have started last year if not for protests due to concerns on genetic contamination.
Dr. Frank Shotkoski, director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Market II at Cornell University, said the field testing at the University of Southern Mindanao may run for three to four months, the normal cycle for eggplants to mature and bear fruit.
Shotkoski, whose group is funded by the United States Agency for International Development to help commercialize genetically modified crops for developing countries in Asia and Africa, said that Bt eggplant saplings eight to 10 inches tall will be utilized to jumpstart the field testing in Kabacan town.
Once the field test becomes successful, meaning it adheres to environmental and human safety standards and the yields are economically viable, the next step is for commercialization.
“Its commercial propagation will still be subjected to further government regulation, there’s a need to get a variety approval,” he told MindaNews separately.
UPLB has been conducting multi-location field testing of Bt Talong that is resistant to fruit-and-shoot borer (FSB), so named because it feeds on the leaves and fruits during the early vegetative stage, and feasts on the fruit during the fruiting stage.
Through biotechnology, the FSB-resistant variety was developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co., Ltd. in India.
FSB, according to Dr. Serge Francisco, a scientist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute, could ruin up to 100% of eggplant output.
In a study titled “Value of Environmental Benefits of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, Francisco et al said that Bt eggplant reduces not only pesticide use, but also risks to human and animal health.
By adopting Bt eggplant, it is expected that 48% of pesticide use will be reduced, or only 6.2 liters of pesticides per hectare compared to other eggplant varieties, resulting to a savings of P13,959, the study said.
Overall, cultivating Bt eggplant could raise a farmer’s income by about P50,000 per hectare as production cost is cut by 16%, it added. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)