Friday, January 29, 2016

Junking of Bt talong by SC may hamper food security -- DOST
By Rhaydz B. Barcia

LEGAZPI CITY, Jan. 28 (PNA) -- The Supreme Court's decision to totally halt the Bt talong (eggpant) field-testing propagation and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMO) may affect the country’s food security, a Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) statement said Thursday.

The DOST-NAST statement said the permanent halt on GMO crop trials will cause serious negative effect on food security and on the research community following the SC decision.

The genetically engineered Bt talong would have provided an option for the farmers to control the FSB infestation of eggplant by incorporating the gene from naturally- occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that produces the toxin specific for the group of insects to which the FSB belongs.

Bt has been used as a biopesticide for more than 50 years in many vegetable farms all over the world and has been proven to be harmless to human beings, plants and other animals.

At present, synthetic pesticides with known adverse health effects are sprayed 60-80 times to control the FSB and prevent a 70-80-percent yield loss in most of the 22,000 hectares of eggplant.

Unfortunately, the conduct of additional field tests to determine the viability of this Bt talong has now been permanently blocked.

The SC was grossly misinformed that “genetic engineering dangerously tampers with the most fundamental natural components of life;” and that transgenic organisms do not occur in nature, the statement said.

“In fact, there are naturally-occurring transgenic crops such as banana which has incorporated the genes from the banana streak virus and the cultivated sweet potato (camote), which contains genes from the bacterium (Agrobacterium),” the DOST-NAST statement pointed out.

The SC has concluded that there is a lack of consensus on the safety of GM crops: “In the scope of this document, we can only highlight a few examples to illustrate that the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced, complex, often contradictory or inconclusive, confounded by researchers' choices, assumptions, and funding sources, and in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.”

It decided to permanently stop field tests for Bt talong; declare null and void the “Rules and Regulations for the Importation and Release into the Environment of Plants and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology,” otherwise known as the Department of Agriculture Order No. 08, series of 2002; and temporarily stop any application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization and importation of genetically modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with the law.

The activity that was permanently stopped was the field testing of a genetically engineered eggplant.

The tests were being conducted in plots of 920 sq.m. big each, in five different places in the Philippines.

These field tests were part of a research project that was started in 2007 as an option for controlling the fruit and stem borer (FSB), the most destructive insect pest of the eggplant.

The NAST-PHL notes that such a conclusion was derived from a very limited literature survey, some from questionable sources.

“None of the references covered the statements of the Academies of Science of many developed and developing countries that there is no difference in the risks between GM crops (where only one or a few genes are introduced) and conventionally-bred crops (where thousands of genes recombine at random), a view that is shared by NAST-PHL,” the statement said.

“The information sources cited by the court, in fact, recommend that further research be conducted to assess the risks in the deployment of GM crops. Unfortunately, by permanently stopping the field tests of Bt talong, the research that would have provided the answers to the reservations on the safety of Bt talong can no longer be continued,” the DOST-NAST lamented.

Similarly, the NAST-PHL considers the nullification of the Department of Agriculture Order No.08, series of 2002 (DA0-08-2002) in its entirety as too harsh.

It said that the drafting of the said administrative order involved a process of extensive consultations with various stakeholders -- including farmer groups, scientists, academe, NGOs, the livestock industry, feed millers, food processors, commodity importers as well as representatives of foreign exporters and trading partners.

These year-long consultations were conducted in Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao.

The DAO-08-2002 is a carefully-crafted document and has provided effective guidance “for the importation and release into the environment of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology” for the last 12 years.

It must be pointed out that this move, if not clarified, will have serious repercussions on the research and development activities, especially in plant breeding as well as the flow of the supply of food and feed, specifically those that are based on crops largely harvested from transgenic lines, like soybean (2014 soybean meal imports: 2,500,000 MT) and corn (2014 imports: 500,000 MT).

“The possible disruption in the supply chain may cause food security issues in the near future,” the statement said. (PNA) LAP/FGS/RBB/CBD/EDS