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Scientists upbeat over ongoing Bt ‘Talong’ trial in Kabacan
by Bong S. Sarmiento
30-June-2012 MindaNews
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KABACAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/29 June) —The field trial of the Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant or Bt Talong inside the sprawling University of Southern Mindanao (USM) campus here is going smoothly with scientists appearing upbeat over its commercial potentials.

Experts from the University of the Philippines – Los Banos (UPLB) on Friday morning led another round of harvest, the 15th since the transgenic crop was planted in a confined experimental site last March.

This town is among the seven sites across the country chosen for the multi-location trial of Bt Talong, a variety resistant to the fruit-and-shoot borer (FSB).

“The field trial here of Bt eggplant so far is good,” Dr. Lourdes Taylo, research team leader of the Bt Talong project pursued by UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding, said as workers harvested the eggplants.

Allaying fears of contamination of traditional eggplant varieties, Taylo, an entomologist, said that Bt Talong would be beneficial to farmers in that they no longer need to spray them with chemicals to prevent FSB infestation.

According to a project briefer, FSB infestation could reduce yield by as much as 50 to 75 percent.

On the part of the consumers, if ever the Bt Talong is approved for commercial propagation, they would be eating an eggplant with lesser chemical inputs, she added.

The proponents need to secure a separate permit for commercial propagation from the Bureau of Plant Industry, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture.

As part of the biosafety protocol, the harvested Bt Talong were chopped, boiled and buried in a pit inside the fenced facility because these are still not allowed for human consumption and also to ensure that they would not be taken out from the testing site.

There were also non-Bt Talong plants alongside the BT talong, which were compared to each other before a small crowd that includes students.

When sliced, worms or rotten portions were evident in the meat of the non-Bt Talong. The Bt Talong variety, on the other hand, appeared with no such traces.

Dr. Emiliana Bernardo, a member of BPI’s scientific and technical review panel, said that more farmers are expected to engage in the production of Bt Talong than Bt corn.

Bt corn, which was approved for propagation in the country about a decade ago, is the first genetically modified crop approved for commercial cultivation in Asia.

“The big challenge will be how to prolong the efficacy of Bt eggplant against the fruit and shoot borer through effective insect resistance management considering that there are so many small farmers engaged in eggplant production n the Philippines, many of whom are already waiting for the availability of planting materials,” Bernado, a retired UPLB entomology professor, later told a forum attended by farmers and municipal agricultural workers.

Greenpeace earlier filed a writ of kalikasan against the multi-location trials of Bt Talong.

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law available to individuals, groups, and organizations, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation, by a private individual or entity, public official or employee, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.

Taylo said that the case remains pending before the Supreme Court.

Dr. Jesus Antonio G. Derije, USM president, said that Greenpeace has sought permission from the university to enter the Bt Talong testing site inside the campus, apparently to destroy the experiment.

The request was denied because the university is supporting the field test as part of our academic freedom, he said.

In an earlier statement, Derije noted the university “accepts the challenge of conducting the field trial of Bt eggplant to avoid the big mistake of others in condemning agricultural biotechnology on the basis of hearsays and baseless generalizations.”

“As an academe of higher learning, USM pursues, acquires, and assimilates knowledge that is based on facts. It verifies, validates and triangulates theories, principles and studies through the conduct of actual research and development activities,” he added.

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