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SC ruling against Bt Talong cripples food security, hurts farmers - science students

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LOS BANOS, Laguna - The Supreme Court decision mandating the scrapping of field testing ofBacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant is a blow for superstition and seriously undermines food security, industry and the livelihood of nearly half a million farmers, thousands of science students said in a statement.

The same SC verdict also threw out Administrative Order No. 08, series of 2002 of the Department of Agriculture (DA) that spelled out the biosafety policy of the Philippine government on genetically-modified (GM) plants, according to the biotechnology, biology and medical students.

In a six-page statement, the University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UPLabs) - supported by students from UP Diliman, UP Manila, the Rizal Technological University (RTU) and the Our Lady of Fatima University Quezon Campus (OLFUQC) - expressed dismay over the ruling on a petition for reconsideration on the issuance of a writ of kalikasan against the field testing of Bt eggplant.

They claimed the decision will punish farmers who have been losing up to 90 percent of their eggplants due to persistent attacks by fruit borers. The ruling will force them to apply pesticides at least 12 times on their vegetables to protect them.

Eggplant is the most popular vegetable in the country; its production volume is second only to tomatoes, which are actually fruits rather than vegetables.

By applying the rule retroactively in contravention of  judicial practice, UP Labs warned that the corn industry is also taking a hit because at least 750,000 hectares of farms now produce Bt corn, which was commercialized in 2002.

Once the importation of banned Bt corn seeds is imposed, the P90-billion corn industry will be in peril. The incomes of 415,000 farmers would be cut and the livestock and poultry industry will then have rely on imported feed.

Research by the Biotechnology Information Center of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) shows practically 100 percent of the soyabean used for poultry feed is now GM.

 

Earlier, several other leading entities expressed dismay over the SC decision, notably, the UP Los Banos Foundaiton, Inc. (UPLBFI), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), the Envirnmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA.)

UP Labs said the SC decision favoring Greenpeace and Masipag, a group of scientists and farmers promoting traditional rice varieties and other crops through organic agriculture, “turns back the wheel of time” and sets back the goal of attaining food security.

 

UP Labs noted also that while the Philippines stopped the field tests -  actually completed before Greenpeace attacked the field testing site in Laguna several years ago - “Bangladesh, a developing country, not only approved Bt eggplant testing but also permitted its commercialization. Bengallis have been consuming Bt eggplant since 2014. Since its market release, not a single case of harmful effects on humans and the environment has been reported.”

Today, Bengali farmers have cut the use of pesticides for their Bt eggplants anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent and their incomes soared, a consequence attributed to their cultivation of  the GM eggplant, the UP Labs said.

It noted as well that the Biosafety Regulatory Framework of Bangladesh was influenced by the Philippine Biosafety Guidelines of 1991, which called for approvals of biotech crops only if they are safe both as food and animal feed. This feature is not included in the US guidelines for the approval of biotech crops.

UP Labs pointed out as well that there has not been a single case of toxicity or mortality traced to Bt corn cultivation anywhere in the Philippines the last 13 years. UP Labs expressed dismay over “the SC’s nullification of DA AO 08, series of  2002, the Biosafety Policy on GM Crops in the country. The expanded decision of the SC will be a major setback for the stakeholders in Philippine agriculture and industry,” UP Labs stressed.

With the administrative order gone on the basis of the SC’s finding that it antedated Executive Order No. 514¸which was issued by President Arroyo to cover biotech products, UP Labs said the BPI would now be barred from issuing permits for the importation of plants and plant products derived from biotechnology, thus crippling the work of plant breeders  in both the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), as well as in academic institutions like UP Diliman and UPLB.

“We believe that the biosafety regulatory policy through DA AO 08-2002 is a workable, yet highly monitored protocol for processing products of modern biotechnology,” the students said.

“In its 13 years of implementation parallel to the approval of Bt corn, no environmental and health problems from the production and consumption of the crop was reported. This was because before the approval, strict food and environmental safety tersts were conducted. Also, the safe use of Bt can be traced back to the 1920s. This product has also neen accepted by organic farmers for more than 50 years,” UP Labs stressed.

Its campaign to reverse the ruling against Bt Talong is supported by: Biology Majors Alliance of the Philippines (BMAP); UP College of Agriculture Student Council (UP CASC); UP College of Science Student Council (UP CSSC) in UP Diliman; UP School of Statistics Student Council, (UP Stat SC) in UP Diliman; Rizal Technological University College of Arts and Sciences Student Council (RTU CASSC); UP Agricultural Society (UP AgriSoc);  UP Los Baños Chemical Society (UPLB ChemSoc); UPLB Genetics Society (UPLB GeneSoc); UP Pabvlvm Scientia Sodalitas (UP PSS); UPLB DOST Scholars’ Society (UPLB DOST SS); UP Beta Kappa Fraternity (UP BK); UP Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Society (UP MBBS); UP Physician-Scientists Association (UP PSA)

Of UP Manila; RTU Organization of Biotechnology Students (RTU ORBITS); Our Lady of Fatima University-Quezon Campus League of Biology Enthusiasts (OLFU-QC LOBE), and; RTU Interactive Psychology Students Association (RTU IPSA.)

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