Farmers protest BT eggplant testing

BAGUIO CITY — Farmers groups have protested the field testing of genetically modified (GM) eggplants in the Philippines.

Known as the Philippine Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) resistant eggplants (Bt brinjal) or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, the Department of Agriculture has started multi-location field testing prior to commercialization. This is an eggplant that was embedded with Bacillus thuringiensis to make it resistant to the fruit and shoot borers.

The people of India where the Bt brinjal originated were successful in pressuring their government to issue a moratorium for the commercialization of Bt-eggplant. A French scientific study slammed the commercialization of Bt brinjal, heating up the controversy over the biotech crop’s safety. Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco) developed the genetically modified eggplant. Mahyco is the Indian partner of US biotech giant Monsanto.

A study team led by Caen University professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering has not only branded Bt brinjal “unsafe for human consumption” but also raised serious doubts on safety data presented by developers Mahyco to the government.

Last February 9, Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, has imposed a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal due to food safety, food security, and loss of biodiversity considerations. Minister Ramesh said: “It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.”

Here in the Philippines a petition letter is being circulated on the internet and among advocates where farmers, environmentalists and concerned individuals can sign to protest the field testing and intent to commercialize the Bt brinjal. Farmers reason we have enough experience with Bt-corn and RR-Corn to fear the entry of Bt brinjal.

Now the transnational corporation proponents of Bt-eggplants are doing the groundwork aimed at generating public acceptance to this genetically modified crop.

The Bt brinjal of Mahyco are being tested in 1) Sta. Maria, Pangasinan; 2) UPLB, Bay, Laguna; 3) CSSAC, Pili, Camarines Sur; 4) Sta. Barbara, Iloilo; 5) VSU, Baybay, Leyte; 6) UP Mindanao Davao City; and 7) University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan, North Cotabato .

Bt eggplant seeds’ commercial release in 2011 will follow after another set of multilocational field trials for the dry season which starts in October this year. Seed production deals will be entered with the Department of Agriculture with other State Universities and Colleges. Field tests in the seven (7) sites are pushed by Dr. Desiree Hautea, project leader of the FSBR project and it is funded by the USAID.

The farmers are appealing to the Department of Agriculture to stop the field trials and eventual commercialization on the following basis:

One, there is little or no information about the Bt eggplant. The calls for the release of information about the Bt eggplant were met with silence by agencies under the DA. The Bureau of Plant Industry, Dr. Hautea, the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines of which the DA is a member, have the obligation to release information on Bt eggplant because its study and eventual release will affect Filipino farmers and consumers.

Two, the is no genuine public consultation. There was very little transparency in the assessment and approval process done by DA. The farmers will need to know the risks in planting Bt eggplant and must not be treated as a mere market for Bt eggplant seeds. Moreover, the public has the right to know what food they consume, from where, and how they are produced.

Three, regulatory mechanisms of GMOs in the country were not followed, are lacking, or inadequate or compromised. There should be specific requisites for biosafety decisions such as risk assessments and studies to ensure food safety and other concerns. The country does not have a GMO labeling law, as well as a law that addresses liability and redress issues resulting from GMO release.

Four, contamination and loss of biodiversity is not a figment of the imagination. Although the approval is for Food, Feed and Processing (FFP), there is a growing trend that approved GM commodities for FFP are eventually approved for propagation.

This is very alarming and it is a real threat and one only has to look back at what happened in Mexico where their local maize varieties got contaminated with Monsanto’s GE corn. It has seriously destroyed not only their local germplasm, but the culture and traditions of the Mexican people that are so embedded with it.

The same happened in Hawaii and Thailand with GM papaya, which seriously compromised the livelihoods of many Hawaiian and Thai farmers, and jeopardized the countries’ agricultural trade. To let this happen in the Philippines – and compromise the biodiversity and the livelihood of Filipino vegetable farmers – would be plainly careless and irresponsible.

Five, food safety and food security issues. The lack of comprehensive risk assessment studies on the potential impacts of GM crops on human health and the environment should be reason enough to reconsider. Analysis done by Dr. Seralini of the Bt bringal, which was crossed with Bt eggplant in the Philippines shows that tests were invalid, and that Bt bringal may cause liver, blood, and stomach problems.

The tests also do not validly measure the long-term effects of Bt eggplant. Also, as Seralini pointed out, the recommendation of Mahyco, that consumption of Bt bringal be limited to 50-100g for a person per day for five days “for a safe dose level” puts to doubt the safety of Bt eggplant as food.

The farmer petitioners are urging an immediate stop to the multi-location trial of Bt eggplant intended for commercialization and other events related to the development of the Bt eggplant and a revocation of all permits related to this until all issues, including risk assessment issues, are resolved through independent scientific studies on its safety, scientific soundness and environmental sustainability by credible and independent scientists.

Farmers protest BT eggplant testing : Dateline Philippines

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