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13-September-2010 Sun Star Cagayan de Oro
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A SCIENTIST is batting for the commercialization and adoption of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant after noting that this would benefit both the farmers, consumers and the environment.

Dr. Serge Francisco based his proposal on the studies he made on Bt eggplant that are contained in his book “Projected Impacts of Agricultural Biotechnologies for Fruits and Vegetables in the Philippines and Indonesia.”

Francisco said his studies showed that Bt eggplant cultivation would lead to a huge reduction in expenses for pesticides and other inputs since the genetically-modified variety is armed with proteins that fruit and shoot borers (FSBs) feasting on eggplants avoid like the plague.

“With bigger harvest volumes, farmers are thus assured of meeting the demand for eggplants, which comprise about 20 percent of the demand for vegetables.

Technically, the hugely popular tomato is considered taxonomically as a fruit rather than as a vegetable,” he said.

He stressed that the current protocol for genetic engineering in the Philippines is more stringent than in the United States, which also has a large organic farming sector.

Francisco said in the US, the only requirement to conduct genetic engineering in the laboratory is to notify the US Department of Agriculture.

“Here, laboratory work on the genetic engineering has to be approved by the Department of Science and Technology’s Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC),” he said.

Francisco said the strict framework is a guarantee that there are no shortcuts in the process.

However, Julieta Estacio, head of the secretariat of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) and DOST-BC, said in the Philippines, a GM crop first goes through several years of development and then another five to six years of regulation before it hits the market.

She said each step in the development and evaluation of GMOs needs to be approved by the DOST-BC and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

Dr. Saturnina Halos, chairperson of the Biotechnology Technical Advisory Team of the Department of Agriculture (DA), also said the country’s strategy for biosafety, the National Biosafety Framework, is considered a model by other Southeast Asian countries.

She said that because of this, the Philippines had been visited by representatives from Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea and other countries.

However, as an expert on GM crops, Dr. Halos clarified and emphasized that Bt eggplant is not the first food crop in the country.

“The Philippines had been importing many GM commodities. In fact, GM ingredients are already in several products such as beer, cheese, gelatin, some juices and detergents, something not many people know,” she said.

She added that available GM crops have been supporting sustainable agriculture, one of which is the Bt corn which has been proven as safe as its non-GM counterpart to the environment.

She said these GM crops are beneficial to farmers, parallel with the requirements of sustainable agriculture.

“GM crops can help agriculture cope with climate change. GM crops either improve crops for climate change, such as the drought-tolerant rice and corn and insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops being developed or reduce damaging processes to the environment, for instance, reducing 14.8 billion kilogram carbon dioxide release or taking 6.6 million cars from the road from planting of GM crops in 2006,” Dr. Halos said.

She added that there is a strategy to delay insects from developing resistance to Bt which is why Insect Resistance Management (IRM) is required for Bt corn growers. (PR)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 14, 2010.

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