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Savants hail SC’s issuing writ on Bt eggplant
by Jonathan Mayuga / Correspondent
15-May-2012 Business Mirror
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SCIENTISTS welcomed the Supreme Court’s issuance of the writ of kalikasan on the issue of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant project, saying it will elevate the debate on the issue of genetically modified organisms and biotechnology in general to a higher level.

National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) President Emil Q. Javier said: “The writ of kalikasan provides us the venue to ventilate the issues in an informed manner.? There is a risk but there is also an opportunity to lay the issues on the table.”

The NAST supports the conduct of the field trial of Bt talong, saying its success will help boost production of one of most economically important vegetables in the country and other parts of Asia.

The project, according to Dr. Diseree Hautea, leader of the Bt eggplant project, will proceed as scheduled, asserting that health and environmental safety protocols have been observed in the conduct of the project.

According to Javier, the health and environmental safety issues raised by Greenpeace, the main petitioner of the writ of kalikasan, is baseless and, in fact, “not scientific.”

Javier was reacting to the result of a scientific experiment on mice presented by Greenpeace to the SC in filing its petition for the Writ of Kalikasan. He said injecting mice with a very high dosage of Bt toxins will naturally result to the death of mice but such process has been dismissed even by the very institutions to conclude that Bt technology is safe or not.

He said the writ of kalikasan has once again opened the debate on the issue of GMO and scientists will prove that the technology is safe, both to human and animal health, as well as to the environment, the same way that scientists were able to pass the stringent biosafety requirement in the case of Bt corn, which was also opposed by Greenpeace.

University of the Philippines Los Baños President Rex Victor O. Cruz reiterated his support behind the conduct of the field trials of Bt eggplant, saying such project is also a demonstration of how UPLB upholds academic freedom through research and development.

He said UPLB will continue to pursue scientific research and studies, it being one of the leading learning institutions in the field of agriculture, as well as science and technology.

Reynaldo V. Ebora, director of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (Biotech) and UPLB official spokesperson on biotechnology and biosafety concerns clarified that the writ of kalikasan will not in any way stop the on-going field trials.

He said they are now preparing their comment to the SC’s “writ of kalikasan.”

“The writ of kalikasan does not stop the experiment. What the SC wants is for the proponents to answer the issues and concerns raised by the petitioner. We will answer them point? by point,” he said.

The 10-year-old Bt eggplant project is on its final stage. Scientists expect the commercialization of Bt eggplant by 2013. The project aims to develop eggplant varieties that are resistant to the pest, particularly fruit and shoot borer.

Infestation of fruit and shoot borer can drastically reduce, if not wipe out, an entire eggplant plantation.

Through gene splicing, scientists were able to isolate toxins from Bt, a naturally occurring soil bacterium. The toxins were inserted in the gene of the eggplant variety to make the fruit resistant to the fruit and shoot borer.

This is the same technology used by scientists in developing the controversial Bt corn. The adoption of Bt corn, which was released commercially in 2003 has effectively cut down losses by farmers from infestation by the Asian corn borer.

Feed millers are also using Bt corn to produce feed for livestocks.

According to Ebora, the same argument will be used to convince the Supreme Court of the safety of the Bt technology and the Bt eggplant project.

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