Filipino Science Academy faults Supreme Court decision

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PHILIPPINES (NAST-PHL)  has expressed grave concern on the serious negative effect on food security and on the research community of the Supreme Court decision against GMOs

The deadly brinjal Stem and Fruit borer at work

The deadly brinjal Stem and Fruit borer at work

In a recent ruling that has been widely criticized, the court decided to permanently stop field tests for Bt talong (or brinjal or eggplant as it is widely known) ; declare 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 temporarily stop 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 tests that have now been interfered with, thanks to the court, were being conducted in plots in five different locations in the country. 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.

Was the court to decide in favor of science, 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 deadly pest belongs.

Big fat eggplant destroyer

Big fat eggplant destroyer

The confounding court ruling notwithstanding, it is instructive to note that Bt has been used as a biopesticide for over 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 in The Philippines and India, synthetic pesticides with known adverse health effects are sprayed 60-80 times on each fruit to control the FSB and prevent a 70-80% yield loss. Only Bangladesh has saved its farmers and consumers from the hard labor and high cost of production and saved its environmental from heavy pollution by adopting and commercializing Bt brinjal over a year ago.

According to NAST-PHIL scientists’ statement, “the Court was grossly misinformed that genetic engineering tampers with the most fundamental natural components of life and that transgenic organism 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),” they explain.

Also, NAST-PHIL took issue with the Supreme Court’s conclusion that ‘there is a lack of consensus on the safety of GM crops’, saying that such a conclusion was based on 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, it argues.”

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 court rushed into the decision without considering the fact that  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.

Pundits say that the DAO-08-2002 was a carefully-crafted document that had provided effective guidance for the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology for over a decade.

“It must be pointed out that this move, if not nullified, 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.

Unless clarified, the scientists say, this 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.

The academy appealed to the government to urgently engage the Supreme Court to review the decision in light of the issues and serious consequences that may arise as pointed out above. Here is the big question: Why did the judge(s) decide to listen to Greenpeace propagandists at the expenses of credible scientists, including those under the NAST-PHIL?

For more information, email NAST-PHIL at secretariat@nast.ph

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