Go signal awaited for GM eggplant test

Posted on June 09, 2011

KORONADAL -- The North Cotabato provincial government has endorsed the field testing of the controversial Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt-Talong but actual trial has yet to commence, it was learned on Wednesday.

After months of deliberation, the provincial board endorsed last May the Bt-Talong field trial at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan town, according to a statement released by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center. Sought for comment, Rakim L. Tantung, Department of Agriculture-Central Mindanao plant quarantine division chief, said his office is still not aware of such development, even as he assured that the field experiment has yet to start.

"We would know if the trial has commenced because the planting materials have to pass through our office," he told BusinessWorld. Mr. Tantung added that the quarantine division will also have to assign personnel to monitor the Bt-Talong field testing.

He appealed to critics to give the field testing a chance, saying the trial would be done under strict safety measures.

North Cotabato Vice-Governor Gregorio T. Ipong said in the statement that the decision on whether or not to push through with the trial now lies with the proponents.

For his part, Vicente C. Sorupia, Jr., chairman of the provincial board’s agriculture committee, said that the earlier decision of the Kabacan municipal council to allow the field trial of Bt-Talong, which is resistant to fruit and shoot borers, should be respected.

"The proponents have complied with all the requirements set by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)," he said in the same statement.

The Bureau of Plant Industry cleared the Bt-Talong field test in Kabacan town a year ago but testing did not push through because of protests from local groups that raised fears of contamination.

Kabacan is one of the seven Bt-Talong field trial sites across the country cleared by the BPI.

Meanwhile, members of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) at USM hailed the decision of the North Cotabato provincial council. The IBC is part of the regulating body of the field trial.

In a statement, the IBC said that the endorsement proves that the local officials are "open to new knowledge, new technologies and useful cultural shifts; that they know how to strike a balance between facts and myths; discern what is logical, vital, critical and beneficial; and weigh the merits and demerits of issues. Above all, they have allowed reason to prevail over emotions."

The group added that the council "acted on the issue objectively and mustered courage to take reasonable calculated risks in search for more truth without necessarily losing sight of the common good of the people.

"They exercised rational, critical and analytical thinking to generate sound judgment or decisions to unravel more science-based facts that shall eventually guide them in their future legislative actions and decisions," the IBC said.

The field testing of Bt-Talong, in some parts of the country, has been met with resistance. In December last year, the Davao City government ordered the state-run University of the Philippines (UP)-Mindanao to uproot the genetically modified (GM) plant, for the proponent’s apparent failure to conduct public consultations.

UP-Mindanao officials bowed to the order issued by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

Last February, environmental activist Greenpeace also destroyed a Bt-Talong field trial in Bai town in Laguna province. -- Romer S. Sarmiento