Professor still confident on BT eggplant field testing-A A +A
Thursday, February 3, 2011
A PROFESSOR from the University of the Philippines (UP) Mindanao on Thursday expressed confidence that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte will eventually support field testing of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplants at UP campus in Mintal.
Prof. Verna Maries Monsanto-Hearne said in Thursday's first City Council committee hearing on Bt Talong that "contrary to the victory assumed by the anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) group, nobody in the City Government ever said UP Mindanao can never run the experiment again."
She said the uprooting of Bt eggplants at the UP Mindanao in December was issued under administrative reasons and not because of biosafety "contrary to the widely printed and reported misinformation."
"Beyond being women of law, the mayor is a woman of development and progress. It is therefore unimaginable for her to be antagonistic to scientific endeavors which may be able to support four out of 11 thrusts of the city under her governance: environment, health, livelihood, and agriculture and fishery development)," Monsanto said.
Monsanto also reiterated UP-Mindanao's stand that their BT eggplant experiment is safe.
"The Bt is derived from Bacillus thuringiensis, is an ubiquitous bacteria that has been popularly sprayed on crops since 1950s to control certain insect pests in a natural, environmentally-friendly and organic manner," she said.
Monsanto said the bacteria has highly specific activity and is therefore unlike most insecticides which can kill beneficial insects.
"After more than 60 years of use, health and environmental protection agencies still have not found any hazards related to the use of B. thuringiensis," she said.
"Bt spray's insecticidal property is due to the B. thuringiensis' produce, the Cry protein which gives the insect pests a feeling of satiation, leading to eventually to starvation and death," she said.
Monsanto also stressed how scientific propositions should be backed by valid studies "before they can be announced and printed as facts."
She said this in line with the "rapid information relay" that led to the uprooting of the Bt eggplants, which were subjects of UP-Mindanao's scientific research.
"It is very difficult to distinguish facts from speculations and even fiction, more so, when the information is related to very controversial issues like agri-technology," Monsanto said through a position paper presented during the hearing.
The hearing, headed by the committee on agriculture under City Councilor Conrado Baluran, is relative to Item 549, letter of Gerardo Santos in forwarding his separate opinion to the controversial Bt Talong experiment.
The hearing, held at the session hall, was attended by more than 350 people composed of both from UP-Mindanao; and opposing groups under Go Organic Mindanao (GOM) and organic farmers in Mintal.
Councilors Melchor Quitain and Marissa Salvador-Abella were also present during the hearing.
Monsanto said oppositors of the experimentation, created a "mental model" that viewed UP-Mindanao to have allegedly placed the public at risk.
"The bickering and confusion that surrounds a controversial and explosive piece of research is one of the reasons why the scientific community arrived at a position where it is widely accused of putting the public at risk," said Monsanto, daughter of Central 911 head Ret. Colonel Verner Monsanto.
Monsanto cited similar cases wherein "science, in its quest for truth, lost to popular and salable information."
Monsanto said "the infamous Pusztai affair", referring to Arpad Pusztai, in August 1998 created the mental model "that GMOs are not safe."
"Pusztai went to the media to announce his research that feeding genetically modified potatoes had negative effects to stomach lining and immune system. Pusztai was flawed as (1) the diets did not contain adequate amounts of protein, (2) the intake of nutrients was not the same for experimental and control animals, and (3) the conslusion was made from use of raw potatoes, which naturally contain high levels of natural toxins. Nevertheless, people (began to have mental models) that GMOs are not safe," she said.
Monsanto explained there is a need for genetic modification "so that the crops, like Bt corn (i.e. corn paste used in making corn flakes) and Bt talong will produce the Cry protein.
An entomologist from UP-Los Baños, Dr. Lourdes Taylo, also said that the development of Bt eggplant is being undertaken to provide farmers a cheaper alternative, wherein there would be lesser expenses on insecticide.
"It is undertaken precisely to provide the farmers with an alternative high yielding variety of eggplant with commercially useful levels of resistance to EFSB (or worms) that will ultimately reduce overdependence on insecticides," Taylo said.
Taylo said that as the UP schools develop Bt Talong, farmers would then have a choice whether to go with open-pollinated or a hybrid variety of Bt eggplant. (JCZ)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 04, 2011.