THREE congressmen filed a bill asking the Congress committee on agriculture and food to investigate field trials on and eventual commercialization of Bt Talong.

House Bill 237 was received by the House of Representatives in August 17 and was introduced by Representatives Teddy Casiño, Neri Javier Colmenares, and Rafael Mariano.

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The bill directs the committee to "investigate, in aid of legislation, the field test trials and alleged eventual commercialization of bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant in view of Republic Act 10068 or the Philippine Organic Agriculture Act that discourages the use of genetically modified organisms on account of its adverse impact on food safety, food security, environment and biodiversity, and agricultural production."

The bill resolves that the ongoing field tests "be suspended." It also urged that the National Committee on Bio-safety of the Philippines and Bureau of Plant Industry be compelled to divulge information about the Bt eggplant.

The congressmen cited in their bill the Organic Agriculture Act that promotes the practice of organic agriculture to maintain fertility of the soil, increase farm productivity, reduce pollution and destruction of the environment, prevent depletion of natural resources, and protect the health of farmers, consumers, and the general public.

Although the Act includes the use of biotechnology, it explicitly states that this "shall not include genetically modified organisms (GMOs)."

GMOs are defined as organisms that have been altered genetically, resulting in the addition of new characteristics not naturally belonging to them.

The bill defines Bt as a toxin-producing germ which, when embedded into eggplant, cause it to become resistant to Philippine Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB).

"The Bt eggplant is a GMO designed to produce an insecticide in order to fight insects. This insecticide is present in the whole plant and concentrated in the fruit," stated the bill.

The bill further said the Bt eggplant was introduced for field testing by Maharastra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco) on select areas in the country, and is allegedly intended for commercial release in 2011.

"Mahyco is affiliated with Monsanto, a US-based biotech company which introduced Bt corn in the country."

Presently there are seven sites for field testing in the Philippines namely, Sta. Maria Pangasinan; Bae, Laguna; Pili, Camarines Sur; Baybay, Leyte; Sta. Barbara, Iloilo; UP Mindanao, Davao City; and Kabacan, North Cotabato. The bill cites that on June 28, 2010, the Bureau of Plant Industry approved four additional sites for field testing of the Bt eggplant.

The bill states that proponents of the Bt eggplant in the country, particularly the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, University of the Philippine Los Baños, and other state colleges and universities, are government entities tasked to spearhead organic agriculture in the country.

Mahyco conducted similar field tests in India in 2009 but India's Minister of Environment and Forests stopped the distribution and commercialization of Bt eggplant until independent studies establish it is safe for consumption.

The Minister reportedly cited health risks, including findings of stomach, blood, liver, and heart diseases among lab animals fed with Bt eggplant.