Scientists urge SC to allow continued trial of Bt eggplant

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/1 May) – A group of Filipino scientists has urged the Supreme Court to allow the continued field trials of a genetically modified eggplant variety to determine if the plant is safe to the environment and for human consumption.

Dr. Emil Q. Javier, National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) head, reaffirmed the group’s full support to the ongoing multi-location research on the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) resistant Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant.

In a press statement released by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center, Javier, former president of the University of the Philippines, said that NAST is confident the High Tribunal will not act rashly but rather consider the scientific side regarding the petition for the writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus filed by Greenpeace last week.

“The filing of the petition is not of national interest, and the Academy, together with UP and the mainstream, reputable scientists from the local and global community strongly support agricultural biotechnology,” he said.

“Contrary to the baseless allegations of the petitioners, Bt eggplant is potentially the best environmentally friendly technology for eggplant production,” Javier added.

The NAST is touted as the highest S&T policy advisory and recognition body of the scientific community in the country.

Greenpeace said the petition shows the need to take precaution given the scientific uncertainties on the safety of GMOs.

“The government’s GMO approval system is hopelessly flawed and biased towards the release and propagation of GMOs in the country. The government’s pro-GMO approach is unfortunately resulting in a massive and uncontrolled unleashing of GMOs into our diets and our environment,” said Von Hernandez, Greenpeace-Philippine executive director.

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law available to individuals, groups, and organizations, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation, by a private individual or entity, public official or employee, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.

A writ of continuing mandamus is a legal remedy under Philippine law available to injured persons when any agency or officer of the government unlawfully neglects the performance of an act, excludes another from the enjoyment of rights, and there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

Named respondents in the petition are the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Plant Industry and the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority of the DA, UP Los Baños Foundation Inc., UP Mindanao Foundation Inc., and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications-Southeast Asia Center.

The Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB) of the UP Los Baños (UPLB) is conducting the Bt eggplant project in the Philippines.

In February last year, Greenpeace activists destroyed a Bt eggplant field test in Bay, Laguna. The prosecutor’s office in Laguna had recommended a case of malicious mischief against them.

Last March, the field testing of Bt eggplant in Region 12 finally started at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato, lasting for three to four months.

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 percent of eggplant output.

In a study titled “Value of Environmental Benefits of Bt eggplant in the Philippines,” Franscisco 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 percent 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 percent, it added. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)