Farmers plead with SC: Junk case vs ‘Bt’ eggplant

  • 28 February 2015, Saturday

Source: BusinessMirror
28 Feb 2015

 In Photo: Researchers from the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños show newly harvested Bacillus thuringiensis eggplants at a field test site in Santa Maria, Pangasinan, in 2010.

FARMERS have urged the Supreme Court (SC) to junk the writ of kalikasan against Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, saying that the Bt eggplant does not need deadly pesticides as it is designed to kill pests.

Edgar Talasan of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, issued the appeal on behalf of 40,000 vegetable growers nationwide who would be spared from using pesticides that are applied to eggplants almost every day if they would use Bt eggplant. The use of biotech eggplant would cut the infestation by stem borers that burrow deep into eggplants which render up to 90 percent of the crop unsuitable to sell.

“Among eggplant growers, it is normal to apply pesticides regularly. I apply pesticides twice a week but in Pangasinan, they do it nearly every day,” Talasan said in Filipino.

The Bukidnon farmer said, “If we do not like poison to litter our land and prevent contamination of our vegetables, then the SC should listen to our plea.

Bt eggplant is not dangerous since the genetic material used is specific only to pests who die upon nibbling at the eggplant skin. Humans are safe from this.”

Talasan made the appeal on Friday’s media briefing of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) at a hotel in Makati City.

During the same briefing, Dr. Gil Saguiguit Jr. of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture said the Philippines continues to be the leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations even as other countries are starting to approve biotech crops for cultivation. He said the Philippines trailblazed in planting Bt corn in 2002, with cultivation starting the following year, and the country achieved self-sufficiency in corn by 2012.

Talasan said the alternative should the SC not lift the writ of kalikasan against Bt eggplant is that “the 40,000 eggplant farmers would continue to apply hundreds of thousands of liters of toxic chemicals to protect their [produce] from infestation, the [consumers] would continue to eat conventional eggplant varieties that are soaked in a cocktail of chemicals that are potentially more lethal than the built-in protective armor of Bt eggplant.”

The farmer, a leader of the Quarba MultiPurpose Cooperative in Impasug-ong, the biggest town in Bukidnon, said, “farmers want Bt eggplant since they will reduce their postharvest losses since infestation is eradicated. Without Bt eggplant, they would lose more vegetables to fruit and stem borers.”

“In my case,” Talasan said, “my income per cropping from 2,500 hills of eggplant is P84,000.

“If I go for Bt eggplant once the SC lifts the writ, my income would rise correspondingly.” He explained that with Bt eggplant, he is assured of higher income and this would allow him to send his children to college, adding that one of them already earned a college degree, courtesy of his eggplant farming.

“I tried the organic farming system, the system of crop rotation and fallowing as well the application of integrated pest management but the organic system does not provide as much yield as Bt eggplant [would give], while the other systems are labor-intensive and cumbersome,” he argued. While the Philippines was the first country in Asia to propagate biotech corn, Bangladesh actually beat it in cultivating Bt eggplant.

With a population of 150 million, Bangladesh is a huge consumer of eggplants in South Asia even as eggplant is the top vegetable in the Philippines. The issuance of a writ of kalikasan against Bt eggplant in the Philippines effectively stopped work on its approval and commercialization, giving Bangladesh the first chance to cultivate it.

Neighboring India was also supposed to approve it for commercialization but a court blocked such approval, citing health risks for the untested crop.

With the writ of kalikasan, the Philippines could hardly approve new biotech crops, while Vietnam is set to approve biotech corn this year, while Indonesia is said to be ready to issue the green light for drought-tolerant sugarcane. Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator and director for Southeast Asia, said biotech advocates hope that the High Court would decide in favor of Bt eggplant.

Hautea said the tribunal earlier allowed the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines to intervene in the case. The SC, however, decided the case largely on the claims made by Greenpeace that a study conducted by Dr. Guy Serralini of the University of Caen in France which claimed that laboratory mice died of cancer after being fed with Bt corn.

The study has since been withdrawn after peers found that bad science was written all over the study.

Dr. Paul S. Teng of Singapore, chairman of the ISAAA board of trustees, said biotech crops are the wave of the future since it assures higher yield on smaller areas for farming and with lesser use of water and fertilizer.