Eggplant propagation underway

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna -- Philippine commercial propagation for the heavily-opposed Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) "talong" (eggplant), a homegrown genetically engineered (GE) crop, is now underway.

This, according to Desiree Hautea, country coordinator of the Bt Talong project, following the reversed decision of the Supreme Court last July 26 in its December 2015 ruling which temporarily banned the field testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

“We have brighter prospects now following the SC ruling, it’s a unanimous decision, I just hope that we respect the rule of law, we hope that very soon we can bring it (Bt Talong) to our farmers,” she said during the last day of the three-day training-writeshop on Engaging Regional media for Science-Based reporting on Modern Agricultural Technologies last Wednesday, July 27 at University of the Philippines Los Baños - Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

SC Ruling

In an en banc ruling, the High Court granted the petitions for nine motions for reconsideration filed by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) “talong” (eggplant) proponents.

The proponents (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines) filed a petition before SC “to set aside its December 2015 ruling on the ground of mootness.”

SC ruled in favor to the proponents as “these cases, which stemmed from respondents’ petition for writ of kalikasan, were mooted by the expiration of the Biosafety Permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry and the termination of Bt talong field trials subject of the permits,” SC spokesperson, Theodore Te, said in a media briefer.

“Any future threat (environmental and health) to the right of herein respondents (Greenpeace and Masipag, farmers' group) or the public in general to a healthful and balanced ecology is therefore more imagined than real,” read the new high court ruling.

What’s next?

The Science community hailed the decision, thus, its plan to elevate Bt Talong to commercialization.

But, another round of stringent process has still yet to be met by the proponents to ensure safety.

“We are eyeing to apply for commercial propagation, maybe first quarter of next year to the new body formed under the joint department circular (JDC) of the to replace the DAO No. 8 issued in 2002,” Hautea said.

The body is composed of Department of Agriculture (DA), along with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

On an average the body will decide on the application within 100 days.

“We still have to go through a process, we will present to JDC body the results of our completed research based on the field trial 2010-2012 data on environmental impacts, food and feed safety,” she said adding that there are still a lot of risk assessment to be done.

But she emphasized that there is a big difference between risk and harm saying “risk is a function of hazard that can be managed.”

She also added that they are bent on propagating more Bt talong seeds.
Within the period of target application, proponents planned to gradually introducing Bt Talong by piloting the farming of it to 100 eggplant farmers nationwide.

Bt talong unsafe?

Bt talong is a genetically modified vegetable, developed for insect resistance in a bid to enable farmers grow it without spraying large amounts of toxic pesticide.

Hautea said that before rendering judgment, one must be equipped with Science-based evidence to prove one’s claims, both goes to pro and anti GMOs.

“I just don’t understand why they want to ban it (Bt Talong) when it is not yet there, well in fact we are importing and enjoying the products of GE for years,” she said citing the GM crops like soy bean, cotton, potato, and squash, among others.

She added that they are over 1700 scientific literatures prove GE crops are safe.

Bt Corn, for instance, is the only GM crop that is allowed for commercial production here.

In 2010-2012, the Bt Talong proponents completed its field testing, according to Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (Isaaa) director, Isaaa SEAsia Center, in a separate interview with Sun.Star Davao said research shows the GM crop is safe.

“It showed that Bt Talong is almost 100 percent fruit and shoot borer resistant, it does not harm any of the non-target and friendly insects like lady bugs, bees, etc. – it is so specific it allows the friendly insects do its work, and the global data is consistent with what we have here,” he said.

He also cited that with the GM crop, eggplant farmer will need not to spray heavy pesticides to its plants.

At present, eggplant farmers here are doing manual spraying, which posted more health risk to their part.

“Worst case they dip the eggplants with insecticide before bringing it to market, they did this to protect the plant from the borers, it is not safe, we have to give them an option than just pesticide,” he added.

At present, eggplant farms in the country is at 21,000 hectares with an average of 220,000 metric tons (MT) production. Of the total national area and production, Pangasisnan comprises 30 percent of the country’s eggplant industry. The industry is pegged at P2.5-billion global value.

“On an average, eggplant farmers has .8 hectare, capable of generating an income of P150,000 per season (five months in a season),” Hautea said.
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