Supreme Court ruling on GMO use draws ‘concern’ from rice institute

Posted on December 11, 2015

THE LOS BAÑOS-BASED International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has expressed “concern” after the Supreme Court (SC) suspended the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) on Tuesday.

A rice farmer prepares for planting. -- AFP
In a statement sent to BusinessWorld, the IRRI expressed reservations about the ruling, concern it said was based on “the best scientific knowledge and evidence.”

Yet, in response to BusinessWorld’s queries how it affects the development of better rice varieties at the institute, the statement read: “We, of course, remain committed to abiding by the laws and regulations of the Philippines and of every country in which we do collaborative research.”

As soon as the institute obtains the full copy of the SC decision, it said it will read it carefully “to take stock of all implications” on biotechnological research.

One of the products that may be affected by the SC’s unanimous Tuesday ruling is Golden Rice, a genetically engineered variety developed at the IRRI.

The rice strain was designed to produce beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) and address vitamin A deficiency, which may lead to blindness and thousands of deaths among children.

“It is the poorest and most vulnerable groups, especially women and children, whose health and well-being are most negatively affected by the scourge of micronutrient deficiency,” the IRRI noted.

The SC en banc, voting unanimously on Tuesday, expanded the Court of Appeals’ writ of kalikasan order that permanently stopped the field trials of Bt talong, a GM eggplant engineered with a bacterium to deter pest insects.

Besides affirming the stopping of Bt talong testing, the SC halted the use, testing, propagation, commercialization and importation of GMOs after it nullified the Department of Agriculture’s regulating GMO use.

It ordered the use of GMOs “temporarily” stopped until the Agriculture department promulgates new rules that will more sufficiently comply with the country’s biosafety framework and international protocols.

The SC in that decision cited the lack of scientific certainty in stopping GMO use, saying that it had to rule in the benefit of the environment amid the lack of safety guarantees.

Greenpeace Philippines, which petitioned the end to Bt talong trials, hailed the decision as a “victory for the Filipino people” but did not issue a statement. -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato