by Melody M. Aguiba
October 29, 2013 (updated)
The Department of Agriculture (DA) will allow field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops even as innovative technologies may potentially help solve pervasive problems like malnutrition, poverty, and hunger.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said the government does not find any problem on allowing field trials of GM crops for as long as these follow rules such as testing within confined environment.
“There’s a program on Bt eggplant and Golden Rice that scientists study. For as long as testing is within contained environment, it’s not right for us to stop it,” said Alcala in a press briefing.
GM crops like the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant, a variety that will omit excessive chemical pesticide spraying of farmers, may solve existing problem of spraying 25 to 80 times per season that harm both human and the environment.
Any potential positive development from these tests may be prevented from benefitting human if field trials are stopped.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t give them a chance to prove it, we’re stopping development for the future. If we didn’t allow scientists to produce diatabs, it’s like saying we should only use charcoal (or uling to cure diarrhea),” said Alcala.
Bt eggplant is practically the same in technology as that of Bt corn which has good record of safety for human health and the environment for more than 10 years now. It was released to the market in 2002.
“We don’t really have any problem with GM corn except that those in Negros want a ‘no GM policy.’ But there are farmers that are open to it. Farmers in Pangasinan are open to it. Farmers in Isabela are open to it. We give importance to their decision. That’s their call,” said Alcala.
A big advantage in Bt eggplant is the health benefits to consumers.
“The net present value of adopting Bt eggplant was estimated at R1.864 billion with an internal rate of return of 86.8 percent. Consumers would also be safer because of reduced insecticide residues on the eggplant,” according to Sergio R. Francisco in a study.
With lesser pesticide use, Filipino farmers will be able to meet Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food safety standard on eggplant. That increases the local eggplant’s export potential.
“It will significantly reduce insecticide residues to maximum residue limit or MRL, the allowable limit set by FAO that will not cause health related problems to humans,” according to Mario Navasero, University of the Philippines-Los Baños entomologist.
Bt eggplant will be produced in the form of open pollinated varieties (OPV) of popular eggplant varieties particularly the long purple variety.
Eggplant farmers look forward to the release of the Bt eggplant OPV which will be a cheap or even cost-free source of seeds for their eggplant growing. OPVs may be used repeatedly by farmers without needing to purchase seeds every planting season.
It will spare farmers from the infestation of fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that can destroy 54 to 70 percent of harvest.
Food safety evaluation, earlier conducted in India, showed Bt eggplant has passed tests for toxicity, allergenicity, and substantial equivalence, a concept stating that a novel product as GM is the same as its conventional counterpart.
Regarding the GM Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland reported that Golden Rice contains up to 35 micrograms of betacarotene and is “effectively converted to Vitamin A in humans.”