By Mikhail Franz E. Flores, Reporter

Biotech group asks SC to reverse GM eggplant ruling

Posted on January 27, 2014

A BIOTECHNOLOGY agency has asked the Supreme Court to reverse a decision that stopped field trials for a genetically modified, pest-resistant eggplant.

In a 118-page petition for review, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) sought to overturn a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that issued a temporary environmental relief order (TEPO) against the testing of Bt talong (eggplant). ISAAA said that the appellate court erred when it granted the relief.

The CA’s former special 13th division ruled last Sept. 20 that issuing a “writ of kalikasan” against Bt talong is “justified and warranted” with the possible risk of violating the Filipino’s right to a “balanced and healthful ecology”.

The CA resolution upheld its May 17, 2013 decision ordering the respondents “to permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials; and protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment”.

ISAAA said the issue should have been considered “moot and academic” since field trials are no longer conducted for the genetically modified (GM) eggplant.

“Considering that there are no more Bt talong field trials being conducted anywhere in the Philippines, there is nothing more for the Court of Appeals to rule upon. There is nothing more the Court of Appeals to cancel and enjoin,” the petition stated.

ISAAA contended the issue raises “political questions” which are outside the jurisdiction of the judiciary but under the executive and legislative branches. The group also cited the failure to question the field trials with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) before directly proceeding to the courts for relief.

The biotechnology agency further noted that the Philippine system in regulating genetically modified crops “is considered by the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as the model for developing countries”.

The petitioner also said current rules on GM crops “are already very stringent to prevent ... harm” and that the field trials of the GM eggplant complied with environmental laws.

“In sum, the evidence on record shows that stringent safeguards have been implemented during the conduct of the Bt talong field trials to ensure that the right to a balanced and healthful ecology will not be violated and to protect the environment,” the petition read.

The appellate court that ruled against the eggplant’s field trials was likewise accused of “bias and partiality” when it ruled based on the findings of a herbicide-tolerant corn, which ISAAA said is unrelated to the GM eggplant.

Named respondents are Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) and several individuals.

The case stemmed from the multi-location field trials of the genetically engineered eggplant, which is purportedly resistant to fruit and shoot borer, a pest that infests the plant.