ORGANIC agriculture practitioners are asking the City Government of Davao to look into plans to conduct field testing of genetically modified eggplants in the city and if true, "immediately halt" the field trials due to threat it poses to people's health and environment.

The field testing of the genetically-modified eggplant, also being undertaken in other parts of the country, is a prelude to the planned commercialization of the first genetically modified (GM) vegetable in the country by 2011.

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In their letter addressed to City Agriculture Office head Leo Avila, the group pointed out that the "introduction of GM in the city even if only during field trials, is contrary to the principles enshrined in the recently passed Organic Agriculture Ordinance of Davao City (Ordinance No. 0384-10) that promotes the adoption and mainstreaming of organic farming systems and practices and clearly states that organic agriculture cannot co-exist with genetically modified crops."

Go Organic Mindanao coordinator Angelica Castro said that the Go Organic Mindanao, a network of organic farming practitioners and advocates, sent a letter to the City Agriculture Office, asking them to conduct an investigation on the GM eggplant trials and planned commercialization and open public consultations on this issue.

Castro, who along with other GOM members met with Avila last week, said that even the CAO has not been formally informed about the field testing.

"Under the Local Government Code, all projects that affect the environment and general welfare of the people must undergo public consultations," Castro said.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are organisms that have been altered genetically or in a way that does not occur naturally. In this case, the local eggplant variety has been inserted with a gene coming from a bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which produces toxins lethal to the common eggplant fruit and shoot borer worm pest.

The UP-Mindanao has been identified as a testing site for the Bt eggplant, which is being field tested by a subsidiary of MNC Monsanto, and handled by Dr. Desiree Hautea of IPB-UPBLB and Dr. E.T. Rasco of UP Mindanao.

Dagohoy Magaway, a farmer and member of Go Organic-Davao City, meanwhile called the proposed field testing as anti-poor and a bane to small organic farmers everywhere.

"This field testing is a prelude to the commercialization of the GM eggplant. Once the local varieties of eggplant are contaminated with the GM gene, farmers will lose control of their seeds, since they will become dependent on the multinational companies who would sell the GM seeds or their hybrids," he warned.

Bt Eggplant was originally developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO), the Indian subsidiary of US seeds corporation Monsanto.

The group called on the City Agriculture Office to "expedite the implementation of the Organic Agriculture Ordinance, since agro-ecological farming is the more strategic answer to local and global food security and environmental problems." (PR)