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PHILIPPINES Controversial eggplant
reaches Supreme Court by Paul M. Icamina
11-May-2012 Malaya View
Contrary to national interest,
Or hopelessly flawed.
Take your pick. Whatever your choice, in what is billed
as the Great Talong War, the pros and cons of a controversial
eggplant has reached the Supreme Court.
The gene of the so-called Bt eggplant has been modified
to resist potentially disastrous infestations of the fruit
and shoot borer, a major pest of eggplant. It is resistant
because of a gene from the common soil bacterium Bacillus
thuringiensis; that’s where the “Bt” term comes from.
Like its predecessor the Bt corn, the Bt eggplant has long
been the bone of contention between supporters and critics.
Early last year, Greenpeace activists destroyed a Bt eggplant
field test site inside the Univertsity
of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) campus in Laguna.
The prosecutor’s office in Laguna had recommended a case
of malicious mischief against the activists.
After some local opposition, the field testing of Bt eggplant
finally started at the University of Southern Mindanao in
Kabacan, North Cotabato, only last March.
Contrary to the allegations of critics, Bt eggplant is
potentially the best environment-friendly technology for
eggplant production, said Dr. Emil Q. Javier, President
of the National
Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), the government’s
highest science and technology policy advisory body.
The petition before the Supreme Court runs contrary to
the national interest, he said.
“The government’s GMO (Gene Modified Organism) approval
system is hopelessly flawed and biased toward the release
and propagation of GMOs in the country. The government’s
pro-GMO approach is unfortunately resulting in a massive
and uncontrolled unleashing of GMOs into our diets and our
environment,” said Von Hernandez, Greenpeace-Philippine
Greenpeace is one of petitioners that urged the Supreme
Court in late April to stop the government from introducing
genetically engineered eggplants in the country.
The petitioners included the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa
Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy
Casino, former Sen. Orlando Mercado, Puerto Pricesa Mayor
Edward Hagedorn and artist Noel Cabangon.
Citing health and environmental hazards, a group of scientists,
farmers and other individuals filed a 68-page petition for
continuing mandamus and the Writ of Kalikasan.
They oppossed the government’s field testing of the Bt
eggplant which has been genetically modified to resist fruit
and shoot borer infestation. They asked for a temporary
environmental protection order.
The 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.
A writ of continuing mandamus is available to injured persons
when any agency or officer of the government unlawfully
neglects the performance of an act, excludes another from
the enjoyment of rights, and there is no other plain, speedy
and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.
Named respondents were the Department of Envirnment and
Natural Resources- Environmental Management Bureau; the
Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry and
Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority; UPLB, UPLB Foundation,
UP Mindanao Foundation and the International Service for
the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications-Southeast Asia
The Bt eggplant project in the Philippines is being conducted
by the UPLB Institute of Plant Breeding.
Greenpeace said the petition shows the need to take precaution
given the scientific uncertainties on the safety of GMOs.
Field testings of the Bt eggplant has been on-going since
2010. They are being conducted in Pangasinan, Camarines
Sur, Davao City, Laguna and North Cotabato; field tests
will also be made in Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Rizal, Iloilo
“Such testing will expose the Philippines to GMO contamination
of more than 500 varieties of eggplant and other wild and
weedy relatives,” the petitioners said.
The Bt eggplant “is a classic environmental case where
scientific evidence as to the health and environemntal safety
and socio-economic impact is insufficent, inconclusive or
uncertain,” the petitioners said.
Owing to the novelty of the technology used as well as
the fact that no long-term, comprehensive and extensive
study has been done with respect to Bt eggplant, the petitioners
said “there is no assurance that in the long term... this
technology will not affect or produce harmful effects on
the crop lands and range lands or other animal and plant
They said preliminary scientific evaluation has indicated
“reasonable grounds for concern about their potentially
dangerous effects on the environment and human health.”
In view of the “conflicting claims” about the safety of
the genetically modified plant, the government should have
first applied precautionary measures before carrying out
the field tests, the petitioners said.
The petition raised the possibility that with its built-in
insect-resistance gene, the Bt eggplant can create aggressive
weeds that may wreak havoc on local agriculture and natural
It cited the results of a 90-day laboratory test, conducted
by proponents of GMOs on mice fed with the new Bt eggplant,
which showed signs of toxicity in the liver and kidneys
of the test subjects.
It pointed out the lack of long-term study to prove that
the GMO would be safe for human consumption.
With its built-in insect-resistance gene, Bt eggplant poses
risks of creating aggressive weeds that may wreak havoc
on local agriculture and natural habitats, said Daniel Ocampo
“Contrary to the baseless allegations of the petitioners,
Bt eggplant is potentially the best environmentally friendly
technology for eggplant production,” Javier pointed out,
adding the NAST is confident the Supreme Court will not
act rashly on the petition,
He reaffirmed NAST’s support to the ongoing multi-location
field testings of the Bt eggplant.
“The filing of the petition is not of national interest,
and NAST, together with UP and the mainstream, reputable
scientists from the local and global community, strongly
support agricultural biotechnology,” Javier said.
Dr. Fernando Bernardo, a plant breeder who is a member
of the Department of Agriculture’s Scientific and Technical
Review Panel, belied the claim of Grenpeace that the country’s
biosafety regulatory system is flawed and lax.
In fact, it is very strict, said Bernardo, a former university
president and Deputy Director General of the International
Rice Research Institute, adding scientists have already
proven that Bt is safe as a bacterium that is ever present
in the soil.
He said government approvals of field testing is science-based
and that in every stage of assessment, all available information
is evaluated. If necessary, the review panel asks for additional
data and the scientific information must be complete and
thoroughly evaluated before an application moves to the
next stage of research, in this case, field testing.
Supporter of biotechnology say the country’s strict regulations
are being used as a template by other nations who are embarking
on biotechnology research and development.
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Telephone +6349 536 2290 ext. 406 / 169 / 135
Fax +6349 536 4105
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established in 2000 to address the needs of the region for a highly
credible, sound and factual biotechnology information center in the
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