A heavy blow to food security and scientific research: UPLB Position on the Supreme Court Decision on BT Eggplant Field Testing

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Activities, News | 0 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr.
UPLB Chancellor

18 January 2016

On December 8, 2015, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a decision to permanently stop the field testing of the genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant or Bt talong developed by the (Institute of Plant Breeding) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). The Supreme Court also declared null and void the Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order No. 08, Series of 2002. This temporarily stops the any application for contained use, field testing, propagation, and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) until a new administrative order is developed in accordance with the law.

These decisions were brought about by the law suit filed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, MASIPAG, and various individuals against the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Natural Resources, the DA Bureau of Plant Industry and Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority, UPLB Foundation Inc., UP Mindanao Foundation Inc., and ISAAA invoking the Writ of Kalikasan, a legal remedy under Philippine law which protects the rights of Filipinos to a balanced and healthful ecology. Allegedly, the field trials violate the people’s constitutional rights to a healthy environment because of possible harmful effects and consequences of using Bt crops, more specifically, the Bt eggplant.

The decision to permanently stop field testing of the Bt eggplant and declaring AO 08 null and void bring many important and long-term consequences to the country and us Filipinos. 

Posing a threat to food safety and security

The food and feed industries are dependent on imported crops such as corn and soybean, which are mostly genetically modified. Our livestock and poultry industry depends heavily on imported corn and soybean as major components feeds. In 2014 alone, we imported 500,000 metric tons of corn and 118,000 metric tons of soybean and millions of tons of soybean meal for our pigs, chickens and cows. Almost all of the soybean meal we from the United States and Argentina are genetically modified.

All efforts to develop and commercialize any GMO will also have to temporarily cease. Thus, instead of producing our own crops and products, we will import important crops such as soybean, corn, cotton, and livestock from other countries. Prices of importation will skyrocket and the possible disruption in the food chain may cause food security issues.

Thus, low-wage and even middle income consumers will have to pay the burden of paying high prices for food. These include crops exposed to excessive pesticide spraying. Furthermore, consumers are denied food with added nutritional benefits and better postharvest quality at no extra cost, such as Golden Rice with Vitamin A, and long shelf-life papaya.

Eroding economic gains

By permanently stopping the Bt eggplant field testing, farmers will be prevented from using this technology to potentially solve the problem of high pest infestation and pesticide use. Farmers usually spray 60-80 times on their eggplant crops during the planting season, causing harmful effects to our health and the environment. The Bt eggplant is a safe, naturally insect-resistant variety that is intended to replace the chemical spray technology that our farmers currently use.

Aside from pesticide use, which accounts for 30% of total production cost, other production costs will increase, such as water and fertilizer use. Left unmanaged, high pest infestation can cause 80% yield loss, contributing to the current average yield of eggplant per hectare in the Philippines – 5 to 6 tons lower than the average for Asia. A 2006 study showed that, on average, Pangasinan farmers’ potential net benefit from planting Bt eggplant instead of conventional varieties should be higher by about PhP272,000 per hectare, while Camarines Sur farmers can gain PhP120,000 per hectare more. Another study found that if farmers adopt Bt eggplant, health costs that would be saved would amount to PhP2.5 million for humans, and PhP6.8 million for farm animals, beneficial insects, and birds. Ultimately, farmers will be deprived of potentially high-yielding, safe technologies that will help raise their income. Moreover, they will not have access to sustainable technologies that will help them combat the effects of climate change, such as crops that can tolerate floods, drought, and saltwater intrusion.

Farmers, who make up 36.6% of the country’s total work force, will face difficulties if they do not have seeds to plant or are prevented from planting GM crops even if they are available. Corn farmers will no longer be allowed to plant GM hybrid yellow corn, which are high-yielding and profitable. After one year of adopting Bt corn, a study showed that Bt corn farmers earned an added profit of Php10,132 per hectare. In a 10-year study on Bt corn impacts in the Philippines, on average, Bt corn farmers gained 19% more yield, applied 9% less fertilizer, and required 54% less pesticides.

Disrupting research and scientific discovery

As a research and public service university, UPLB has been instrumental in helping make the country a regional biotechnology leader and a model for science-based engineering regulatory policy. UPLB has pioneered biotechnology research and development in the Philippines through the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), the National Crop Protection Center (NCPC), and the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BIOTECH) that were established in 1975, 1976 and 1979, respectively.

IPB was mandated and has led in plant biotechnology activities. However, developments such as this frustrate scientific research initiatives and dampen the enthusiasm of researchers to contribute to science-based solutions to food security and safety.

This development could serve to disrupt the long-term competitiveness of Philippine agriculture. But the grimmer scenario is that of a nation that cannot feed its own people in the future. Officially, there are now 104 million Filipinos, and could spike up to 142 million by 2045. With more mouths to feed and the effects of climate change upon us, the challenge to produce more food has become even more difficult with this decision that we believed lack a solid scientific basis.

 

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Source: http://uplb.edu.ph/index.php/304-a-heavy-blow-to-food-security-and-scientific-research-uplb-position-on-the-supreme-court-decision-on-bt-eggplant-field-testing

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