SC decision on Bt eggplant brings ‘rays of hope’ to UP scientists, agri stakeholders

UP Vice President for Academic Affairs Gisela P. Concepcion. Photo by Jun Madird (UPSIO).

According to UP Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Gisela P. Concepcion, the recent decision of the Philippine Supreme Court to dismiss the Petition for Writ of Continuing Mandamus and Writ of Kalikasan with Prayer for Issuance of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) that first stopped the field testing of Bt eggplant in 2013 brought “rays of hope” to UP researchers, as well as to stakeholders in the feed miller and livestock/poultry industries.

Concepcion stated in an interview that the Supreme Court’s reversal of its December 2015 decision to deny petitions to dismiss the 2013 ruling of the Court of Appeals after serious reconsideration was a welcome development for the University of the Philippines. The reversal allows the continuation of the work begun on the Bt eggplant so that it can be approved for commercialization.

The 2015 decision, which addressed the petitions of both UP and UP Los Baños (UPLB), among others, also dismissed Department of Agriculture Order (DAO) 08-2002, the premises of which were the root of the complaints against the field testing. Field testing, commercialization, importation and propagation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were also temporarily halted until a new administrative order is promulgated.

DAO 08-2002 has since been superseded by Joint Department Circular 01-2016, as was indicated in the recent SC dismissal of the case against the Bt eggplant field testing, on the ground of mootness.

Concepcion reiterated UP’s mandate to serve as a research university, as found in Republic Act No. 9500, which is the guiding principle behind UPLB’s research in agriculture, food productivity and food security. She added that UPLB’s research projects are “conceived soundly and implemented systematically, following internationally accepted scientific norms and standards”.

“When UPLB embarked on the Bt eggplant research,” Concepcion said, “environmental impact and human food safety were first assessed based on the international scientific literature and on consultations with various stakeholders. The research project proceeded smoothly and field trials were completed before the SC decision to stop field trials was made in December 2015.”

The results of the cancelled field trials were published by UPLB and Cornell University scientists in the international journal, PLOS ONEi, in June 2016, showing “remarkable improvement in the yield and quality of Bt eggplant compared to non-Bt eggplant, and proved no significant environmental impact, i.e., the Bt toxin was specific to the FSB (fruit and stem borer) insect and did not harm the other insects”.

Concepcion said that these results are evidence that UP scientists are engaged in quality and responsible research and development (R&D).

An added benefit, she added, was that resistance to the FSB insect meant that much less pesticide was needed by farmers with Bt eggplant, while “non-Bt eggplant requires 60 to 80 applications of synthetic chemicals”. Concepcion noted that Bangladeshi farmers are currently benefiting from Bt eggplant, with an 80% reduction in chemical pesticide application on the crop.

107 Nobel laureates indicated their support of GMOs in agriculture on June 2016. Concepcion said other agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the European Commission (EC), the Royal Society (UK), and the National Academies of Science of several countries, including the Philippines also expressed support.

This article originally appeared on the UP System website.