Farmers, R&D and academic sectors oppose SC ruling on Bt eggplant ban

  • 8 January 2016, Friday

Source: MSN, The Philippine Star
7 Jan 2016

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – Which is better for keeping out pests: chemical sprays or genetic modification? The agriculture, research, and academic sectors have closed ranks to oppose a Supreme Court (SC) ruling stopping the field-testing of eggplant genetically modified (GM) to be pest-resistant. SC decision permanently banned the field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant developed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB) with the support of international and national research and academic institutions.

The high court also declared null and void the Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order No. 08, series of 2002, which provides for the “Rules and Regulations for the Importation and Release into the Environment of Plants and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Technology.”

Over the past decade, UPLB-IPB and its partners have been conducting trials at various sites in Luzon and Mindanao on Bt eggplant, which was developed by genetically engineering a gene from the Bt bacterium so that the eggplant can produce a protein that defends itself against the eggplant fruit and stem borer. The FSB is the most destructive pest attacking eggplants in the Philippines and in other Asian countries.

In the intervening years, however, militant anti-GM organism activists swooped down on the GM fields and uprooted the experimental eggplants at the UPLB-IPB farm in Bay (Laguna) and UP Mindanao in Davao City and the Golden Rice field in Pili, Camarines Sur, that were being grown by the DA Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In April 2012, a Greenpeace-led group petitioned the SC for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) and writ of kalikasan to stop the trials. A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law designed to protect the people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.

The SC, however, did not grant a TEPO.

In May 2013, the Court of Appeals (CA) granted the writ of kalikasan and ordered those involved in the research project to permanently stop confined field trials because Bt eggplant allegedly poses risks to human health and the environment.

The case was elevated to the Supreme Court, which subsequently upheld the CA decision.

Emil Javier, a former science minister, former UP president, and former UP Los Baños chancellor, described the decision as “an unfortunate misapplication of the writ of kalikasan” and “a letdown for the Philippine science community.”

 The Asian Farmers Network (ASFARNET)-Philippines headed by Reynaldo Cabanao of Malaybalay City (Bukidnon) has also started mobilizing its ranks for a massive signature drive for a reversal of the SC decision.

The Philippine government-hosted, UPLB-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) headed by director Gil Saguiguit Jr. said the ruling held back the advances made by scientific institutions and researchers working on agricultural biotechnology.

“If we stop the experiments, what will happen to us now? Other countries are currently using and experimenting with biotechnology. So with this (SC ruling), our agriculture sector will be left behind again,” Saguiguit said.

Javier lamented that the real losers are the poor farmers and the consuming public.

“Our small farmers are deprived of modern means of raising productivity, competitiveness and incomes. They are denied potential sustainable farming technologies that can substantially reduce the need for harmful pesticides to protect their crops. And they are prevented from having access to more climate-resilient crops in the future which can tolerate drought, temporary inundation and salt intrusion,” he said.

To protect their crops, Javier noted, “farmers resort to chemical pesticides, spraying every other day. The more desperate dip each hanging eggplant fruit into a container full of chemicals.”

He said low-income consumers are ultimately penalized with high food prices and excessive pesticide residues in the food they eat.

“All of these because of an unfortunate misapplication of the writ of kalikasan,” he said.

Cabanao also said that ASFARNET-Philippines has started mobilizing its ranks toward the holding of a series of consultations and awareness campaign among its members and farmers regarding the SC ruling.

“We will also hold regional mobilizations and later gather at the SC to show our strong opposition to its ruling,” Cabanao told the media on the sidelines of the recent National Agri-Biotechnology Congress at SEARCA on the UPLB campus.

During the meeting, ASFARNET-Philippines unanimously endorsed a resolution expressing disappointment over the SC decision issued last Dec. 8.