Statement of the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST-PHL) on the Supreme Court decision on Bt talong [ISAAA et al.vs. Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Phils) et al.(G. R. Nos. 209271, 209276, 209301, and 209430)]


 

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NAST-PHL  expresses  grave  concern  on the  serious  negative  effect  on food  security  and  on the  research  community    of  the  Supreme  Court  decision  1)  permanently  stopping  these questioned field tests for Bt talong; 2) declaring null and void the “Rules and Regulations for the  Importation  and  Release  into  the  Environment  of Plants  and  Plant  Products  Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology” otherwise known as the Department of Agriculture Order No. 08, series of 2002; and, 3) temporarily stopping any application for contained use, field  testing,  propagation  and  commercialization  and  importation  of  genetically  modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with the law.

 

The activity that was permanently stopped was the field testing of a genetically engineered eggplant. The tests were being conducted in plots, 920 sq.m. each, in five different places in the Philippines. These field tests were part of a research project that was started in 2007 as an option for controlling the fruit and stem borer (FSB), the most destructive insect pest of the eggplant. The genetically engineered Bt talong would have provided an option for the farmers to control the FSB infestation of eggplant by incorporating the gene from naturally-occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that produces the toxin specific for the group of insects to which the FSB belongs.  Bt has been used as a biopesticide for more than 50 years in many vegetable farms all over the world and has been proven to be harmless to human beings, plants and other animals.  At present, synthetic pesticides with known adverse health effects are sprayed 60-80 times to control the FSB and prevent a 70-80% yield  loss  in  most  of  the  22,000  hectares  of  eggplant.  Unfortunately, the conduct of additional field tests to determine the viability of this Bt talong has now been permanently blocked.

 

The Supreme Court was grossly misinformed that “genetic engineering dangerously tampers with the most fundamental natural components of life;” and that transgenic organisms do not occur in nature.  In fact, there are naturally-occurring transgenic crops such as the banana which has incorporated the genes from the banana streak virus and the cultivated sweet potato (camote), which contains genes from the bacterium (Agrobacterium).

 

The  Supreme  Court  has  concluded  that  there  is  a  lack  of  consensus  on  the  safety  of  GM crops:  “In  the  scope  of  this  document,  we  can  only highlight  a  few  examples  to  illustrate that  the  totality  of  scientific  research  outcomes in  the  field  of  GM  crop safety  is  nuanced, complex,   often   contradictory   or   inconclusive,   confounded   by   researchers’   choices, assumptions,  and  funding  sources,  and  in  general,  has  raised  more  questions  than  it  has currently  answered.”  NAST-PHL  notes  that  such  a  conclusion  was  derived  from  a  very limited literature survey, some from questionable sources. None of the references covered the statements of the Academies of Science of many developed and developing countries that there is no difference in the risks between GM crops (where only one or a few genes are introduced) and conventionally-bred crops (where thousands of genes recombine at random), a view that is shared by NAST-PHL. The information sources cited by the court, in fact, recommend that further research be conducted to assess the risks in the deployment of GM crops.  Unfortunately, by permanently stopping  the  field  tests  of  Bt  talong,  the research  that  would  have  provided  the  answers  to  the  reservations  on  the  safety  of  Bt talong can no longer be continued.

 

Furthermore,  NAST-PHL  considers  the  nullification  of  the  Department  of Agriculture  Order No.08,  series  of  2002  (DA0-08-2002)  in  its  entirety  as  too  harsh.  The drafting of the said administrative order involved a process of extensive consultations with various stakeholders including  farmer  groups,  scientists,  academe,  NGOs,  the  livestock  industry,  feed  millers, food  processors,  commodity  importers,  including  the  representatives  of  foreign  exporters and  trading  partners.  These year-long consultations were conducted in Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao.  The DAO-08-2002 is a carefully-crafted document and has provided effective  guidance  “for  the  importation  and  release  into  the  environment  of  plants  and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology” for the last 12 years.  It must be  pointed  out  that  this  move,  if  not  clarified,  will  have  serious  repercussions  on  the research and development activities especially in plant breeding as well  as the flow of the supply  of  food  and  feed  specifically  those  that  are  based  on  crops  largely  harvested  from transgenic lines, like soybean (2014 soybean meal imports: 2,500,000 m.t.) and corn (2014 imports: 500,000 m.t.). The possible disruption in the supply chain may cause food security issues in the near future.

 

Finally,  NAST-PHL  warns  of  the  serious  consequences  of  temporarily  suspending  all applications  for  the  “contained  use,  field  testing,  propagation  and  commercialization,  and importation of genetically modified organisms” (Underscoring supplied). In the language of science, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) include genetically engineered plants, animals and microorganisms. Does this temporary suspension cover applications for permits to use, test, propagate, commercialize and import GMOs not only in agriculture but also in health and in industry? Unless clarified, this temporary suspension can also cause disruption in the supply of recombinant medicines like insulin and recombinant vaccines for dengue as well as processing ingredients for the food industry.

 

In sum, NAST-PHL appeals to the Supreme Court to review the decision in light of the issues and serious consequences that may arise. In order for research and development to respond in a timely manner to the challenges of national well-being, most important of which is food security and health, we need an environment that will foster innovation through a science-based regulatory system.

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Author: tuklasinnatin

A Journalist and served government for 20 years. A community organizer who rose from a clan of artists and novelists.

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