[Marvyn N. Benaning, 14 July 2013]
SCIENTISTS are turning the tables on Greenpeace and other advocates of the ban on field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplants, saying that the genetically modified (GM) vegetable eliminates the use of toxic pesticides.
Bt eggplant is actually the best bet against the disastrous fruit and shoot borer (FSB), a pest that gnaws away anywhere from 50 percent to 73 percent of all eggplants, said Dr. Lourdes Taylo, an entomologist from the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB-IPB).
What Bt eggplant does, Taylo said, is to produce the proteins that kill the larvae of the FSB right on the skin and nowhere else, preventing it from developing and eating into the eggplants.
As far as Dr. Gil Saguiguit Jr., director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, is concerned, Bt corn only kills the FSB and does not pose any threat to humans.
Saguiguit said once FSB bores into the mature eggplant, it can no longer be sold in the market, making it impossible for farmers to recoup their investments.
Aside from Saguiguit, other experts from the UPLB-IPB insisted that Bt, a soil bacterium, was isolated in 1910 and has been approved as an organic pesticide.
He said this alone renders the argument against Bt corn “hollow” since it is essentially an organic pesticide.
If the opponents of Bt eggplant get a permanent injunction against the tests on the vegetable, a public health expert argues that all eggplants will have to suffer the age-old problem of higher insecticide residues.
The presence of such residues in eggplants, soil, and water have been confirmed by Dr. Jinky Leilani Lu of the National Institutes of Health of University of the Philippines-Manila.
Lu said the residues found in eggplants exceeded the default maximum residue level, perhaps because of the fact that farmers dip eggplants in pesticides at least 14 times before they mature.
She claimed these pesticides can harm human health and may cause headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, signs of listlessness and loss of appetite.
As alternative to the hazardous use of chemicals which are ineffective, expensive and harmful to farmers and consumers’ health, Dr. Desiree Hautea of UPLB-IPB and a team of researchers worked in developing the FSB-resistant Bt eggplant or Bt talong.
Hautea and her team have been using biotechnological tools since 2003 to develop biotech eggplant.
Once made commercially available, Bt talong can help farmers plant the crop without the need to spray insecticides, thus saving on labor costs and improving the quality of their eggplants.
Farmers like Gil Mercado of Nueva Ecija and Manuel Espiritu of Isabela have been growing eggplants for decades and their children finished college because of what they earned from planting food crops.
They are aware that two months after transplanting the eggplants, only one spray per week is needed.
However, they do not want pests to damage the eggplants and they spray it every other day, which raises their production costs.
Eggplants are regarded as one of the best-selling vegetables in the Philippines. In 2010 the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics reported that the country produced 60,000 metric tons of eggplants.