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by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
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MANILA, Philippines—A party-list lawmaker on Wednesday called for the immediate halt of field tests of genetically-modified eggplants, sounding alarm over its potential hazards on people’s health and the environment.

In urging the committee on agriculture and food in the House of Representatives to look into the matter, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casino also said the testing procedure violates the recently passed law on organic agriculture.

Filing House Resolution 237, Casiño said the committee “should immediately probe this Bt eggplant testing in view of its being illegal and a great uncalculated risk by government agencies that endorsed its field trials and possible commercial release.”

Intended for commercial release in 2011, Bt eggplant is now undergoing field tests in seven sites in the country namely: Sta. Maria, Pangasinan; Bae, Laguna; Pili, Camarines Sur; Baybay, Leyte; Sta. Barbara, Iloilo; UP Mindanao, Davao City; and Kabacan, North Cotabato by Maharastra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco), according to Casiño.

Mahyco is affiliated with Monsanto, a US-based biotech company which introduced the controversial Bt corn in the country.

“I call on the government proponents of Bt eggplant to stop all these tests as these are illegal at the least and can give rise to agricultural and health anomalies in the near future. It is best to have our eggplants all natural and safe. I also have this to say to foreign biotech companies: Don’t touch my talong,” Casiño added.

Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) is a toxin-producing germ which, when embedded into eggplant causes it to become resistant to the Philippine fruit and shoot borer (FSB). The Bt eggplant is a genetically modified organism (GMO) designed to produce an insecticide in order to fight insects. This insecticide is present in the whole plant and is concentrated in the fruit.

A GMO is an organism that has been altered genetically, typically though the transfer of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a gene-carrying molecule, from another organism.

“Alterations result in new characteristics not naturally belonging to that organism and this can be dangerous. This is what the government proponents of Bt eggplant, particularly the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, and some state colleges and universities do not say,” Casiño said.

He added that these agencies should instead be heading the promotion of organic agriculture in the country.

Casino said Bt eggplant testing violates Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, which states in Section 3 that the use of biotechnology and other agricultural practices shall not include GMOs.

The government-sanctioned field testing also violates the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to which the Philippines is a signatory. Article 2 of the said Protocol states that the “development, handling, transport, use, transfer and release of any living modified organisms are undertaken in a manner that prevents or reduces the risk to biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health,” Casiño said.

He said the Philippine should heed the move of India in February this year in declaring a moratorium on distribution and commercialization of Bt eggplant because of findings that the produce poses health risks, including findings of stomach, blood, liver and heart diseases among lab animals fed with Bt eggplant.

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