Bt talong technology to proceed as SC reverses own ruling

The Supreme Court has reversed its ruling that prevented the field testing of the genetically engineered Bt talong.

In a unanimous decision, the high court granted the motions for reconsideration filed by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines.

The court agreed that “the case should have been dismissed for mootness” since the Bt talong field trials have been completed and terminated and the biosafety permits issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry have already expired. Thus, these “effectively negated the need for the reliefs sought by respondents [Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) and Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura] as there was no longer any field test to stop.”

According to the SC, “an action is considered moot when it no longer presents a justiciable controversy because the issues have become academic or when the subject matter has been resolved,” and it is “not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or riles of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before it.”

It added that the completion and termination of the field tests would not automatically lead to the commercial propagation of Bt talong as three stages are still needed before genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be made available in the market. The Bt talong technology never went beyond the field testing phase.

“Thus, there are no guaranteed after-effects to the already concluded Bt talong field trials that demands an adjudication from which the public may perceivably benefit. Any future threat to the right of herein respondents or the public in general to a healthful and balanced ecology is therefore more imagined than real.”

In December 2015, the high tribunal ordered that field trials of Bt talong be permanently stopped following the nullification of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order No. 08-2002. The DA document, which regulates the use of GMOs, was found insufficient in enforcing biosafety protocols. Along with the suspension of Bt talong trials, the SC also temporarily halted any application for field testing, contained use, propagation and importation of GMOs. The decision was opposed by farmers and scientists.

Bt talong, developed through biotechnology, can increase productivity in areas affected by eggplant pests known as fruit and shoot borers without the use of chemical pesticides.

According to Vice President for Academic Affairs Gisela Concepcion, the decision “brought ‘rays of hope’ to UP researchers, as well as to stakeholders in the feed miller and livestock/poultry industries”.