LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – A US-based Filipino scientist has slammed a Supreme Court (SC) ruling that banned field tests on genetically modified (GM) eggplants.
“The SC stopped an opportunity for scientific research in the Philippines and abandoned agricultural progress to develop the next generation of crops,” Michael Purugganan, dean of the New York University College of Science, said.
“With the SC decision, local scientists will not be able to develop the technology in the country. In five to 10 years, when it becomes clear that genetically modified organisms are the key to feeding the world, we will have to depend on other countries to provide the technology because we prevented our own scientists from conducting field testing of GM eggplants,” Purugganan added.
Last month, the SC stopped the field testing of Bacillus thuringiensis (bt) eggplant because it supposedly poses risks to human health and the environment. The eggplant variant was developed to resist pests.
Purugganan, a biology professor, assessed the implications of the high court’s ruling in a report titled, “SC kills Bt talong, takes down Philippine science as well.”
In his report, Purugganan cited an Italian research in 2014 that reviewed 1,723 research papers and other materials, which found “little or no evidence” that GM crops have negative impact on the environment.
“What the SC ruling stopped was the work by University of the Philippines Los Baños scientists who engineered the Bt protein into eggplant, rendering it immune to the ravages of insect pests,” he said.
According to Purugganan, Bt is safe and even the organic farming community said it can be used as a spray in organic farms. Bt corn, soybean and cotton have been grown since the 1990s in the US and other countries, he said.
Purugganan joined local scientists, researchers, academics, science students and farmers in assailing the SC ruling.
In April 2012, anti-GMO groups asked the SC to issue a temporary environmental protection order and writ of Kalikasan to stop field trials for Bt eggplants.
Bt is a microorganism that naturally occurs in soil. Through genetic engineering, the eggplant variant was developed to produce a natural protein that makes the plant resistant to pests.
Other groups opposing the SC ruling are the Asian Farmers Network Philippines headed by Reynaldo Cabanao of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon; National Academy of Science and Technology, UP League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students and the UPLB-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.