UP unit sets appeal on ‘Bt talong

Posted on June 17, 2013

KORONADAL -- The University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB), proponent of genetically modified eggplant, or Bt talong, will ask the Court of Appeals (CA) to reconsider its decision stopping further field trials of the transgenic crop in the country.

"UPLB will exhaust all possible legal options to reverse the earlier [CA] decision," Dr. Rex Victor O. Cruz, chancellor of the state university unit in Laguna province, said in a notice e-mailed last week.

Kabacan in North Cotabato was among the seven sites across the country chosen for the multi-location trial of Bt talong, a variety resistant to the fruit-and-shoot borer. Bt talong’s field trial in the town began March last year within a confined experimental site inside the University of Southern Mindanao.

The Davao City government was also part of the multi-location trials but it ordered a stop to the then ongoing experiment in 2011 at the UP Mindanao campus reportedly due to lack of coordination by the proponent.

But the state university said that it "stands by its previous statement that the field trials were responsibly and safely undertaken together with scientific organizations and partner state universities in compliance with the biosafety requirements and guidelines approved by the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines and the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture."

The notice, which was issued last June 10, has been posted at the UPLB campus. The UP unit said it hopes that the appellate court will have better appreciation of the scientific evidences on the safety of the field trials which, according to the school, were designed in conformity with internationally accepted standards.

"The university believes that in re-evaluating the arguments, proper attention should be directed to the details of the experiments that will clearly show that the health and environment concerns were properly addressed in the design and implementation of these activities and thus there is no compelling reason to stop further field trials," stated the notice.

UPLB said that "the university has always been and will always uphold the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology for the attainment of food security and a sustainable and safe environment.

It added that the research on Bt talong field trials, which already concluded in August 2012, "had been safely conducted and generated scientific data that are very valuable in the further development of this technology."

Last May 24, Greenpeace welcomed the ruling issued by the CA that granted a Writ of Kalikasan (nature) to stop the field trials of Bt talong. Such legal mechanism protects a person’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.

In its decision, the court ordered the respondents to "permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials" and "protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment in accordance with the foregoing judgment of the court," Greenpeace said in a statement.

"We commend the Court of Appeals for living up to its constitutionally mandated role as protector of constitutional rights," said Daniel M. Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia sustainable agriculture campaigner. "This landmark decision reflects that there are indeed flaws and lapses in the current regulatory process for genetically modified organisms such as Bt eggplant which exposes our environment and health to unknown long-term consequences and does not establish their safety in any way." -- R. S. Sarmiento