Locals still opposing gene-modified eggplant

Posted on November 14, 2011

DAVAO CITY -- Communities around the University of Philippines (UP) campus in Mindanao have stood firm against the new round of field testing for a genetically modified eggplant after the ban was lifted by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

Ramon M. Bargamento II, village chairman of Mintal, told a public forum here last week that his constituents have submitted a petition to the village council which was the basis for the resolution opposing the field testing of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant.

For his part, Jonah C. Macarayo, Bago Oshiro village chairman, said residents are against the testing because of the absence of proper consultation between the researchers of the project and his constituents.

The council in Bago Oshiro also passed its own resolution opposing the testing. The UP Mindanao campus is located in Bago Oshiro and Mintal districts.

In December 2010, government workers uprooted the modified eggplants upon the order of Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio after the project failed to meet the requirements set by the BPI and the Department of Science and Technology. The BPI had suspended the trials.

The BPI lifted the suspension order on the field tests after the Institutional Biosafety Committee of UP Mindanao complied with the requirement to post public information systems in “conspicuous areas” in August and September.

Dr. Candida B. Adalla, chief of the Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Office, said BPI approval of the field test meant the process underwent rigorous assessments by regulatory bodies and scientist.

“The uprooting of a scientific experiment is an assault to scientific inquiry and independence of responsible scientists in quest for truth,” Ms. Adalla said in a statement issued earlier this year.

Ostensibly, the raid at the Bago Oshiro campus was justified on the ground that there was no consultation with the local government when the test sites were planned and experiments set up.

The Bt eggplant, which is also known as Bt brinjal in India, has been certified as safe by six Indian scientific institutions that also dismissed allegations that it is a monster crop.

The field trials at UP Mindanao, said Ms. Adalla, is legitimate, consistent and compliant with the government set guidelines.

In fact, she added, the guidelines of the government are being used as reference by neighboring Asian countries in developing their own policies on genetically modified organism testing.

For his part, Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., an expert on biotechnology and head of the Philippine Rice Institute, said the genetically modified eggplant can also mean reduced expenses in terms of pesticides use and cost of application, and increased yield with an estimated annual income of P1 billion a year if the original plan to plant 20,000 hectares with these modified eggplant pushes through.

“Are we afraid that the eggplant farmers may become rich?” he said during a presentation at the UP Mindanao campus in response to those opposing the program.

Meanwhile, Go Organic Davao City, a network of organic farmers, noted that the field testing of genetically modified vegetable will heighten the risk of contaminating the indigenous, organic eggplant crops.

“We are dismayed that project scientists refuse to listen to the opposition of farmers to the project,” said Go Organic coordinator Tina Delima.

“It is arrogant of them to insist on a new round of field testing in the face of the Organic Agriculture Ordinance, which prohibits the coexistence of (genetically modified plants) with organic crops.” -- Joel B. Escovilla