By Carmencita A. Carillo

DAVAO CITY — Proponents of the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant are a step closer towards commercializing what they hope to be the country’s first genetically enhanced vegetable.

“In the Philippines we have completed the multi-location field trials in four provinces and we are preparing for submission and evaluation of the five inter-agency as ruled by the Joint Department Circular (JDC),” entomologist Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader of Bt eggplant and University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) researcher, told BusinessWorld in an interview on the sidelines of the Biotechnology 101 & JDC public briefing held in the city on Aug. 16.

The multi-location field trials were conducted in Pangasinan, UPLB, Camarines Sur, and Kabacan, North Cotabato.

In an en banc ruling last year, the Supreme Court reversed its 2015 decision that stopped the field testing of Bt eggplant.

The SC granted nine motions for reconsideration filed by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc., the Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, the UPLB Foundation, and the University of the Philippines.

Following the court ruling, the JDC was issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA), along with the Departments of Science and Technology, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, and Interior and Local Government.

Ms. Taylo said the JDC put in place new requirements for the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which will be issued by each of the five departments. The approval must be unanimous.

“We have to submit our regulatory dossier to these agencies for a permit for food, feed and processing so we can get the seeds from Bangladesh since (the Bt brinjal variety) is already approved there,” she said.

India, Bangladesh and the Philippines engaged in Bt eggplant research, but only Bangladesh has so far approved, planted and brought the crop to the commercial production stage.

Bt eggplant proponents in the Philippines, Ms. Taylo said, have fully satisfied three of the four stages and requirements of biosafety of GM crops: contained trials in a research laboratory in 2007; single-location trial in 2008; and multi-location trials in four locations in 2013. The only thing that needs to be done is commercial cultivation.

With the conventional eggplant varieties vulnerable to the Philippine Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), farmers can experience up to 80% in crop losses. In Pangasinan farmers sometimes lose their entire crop.

Most farmers resort to insecticides, and run a high risk of skin disease and respiratory illness, according to Ms. Taylo.

“Eggplant farmers live near their houses so when they spray the chemicals, it can be inhaled by their families,” she said.

Planting Bt eggplant, she added, will address this threat and at the same time improve yields and profit.