December 9, 2015

GMO Eggplant Field Testing Banned By Philippine Supreme Court

In a decision passed down by the Supreme Court on December 8, the Philippine Supreme Court decided to block further field tests of Bt talong, a genetically-modified variant of eggplant that the Supreme Court found as to risky to “the health of the people”.

The same ruling also banned field testing, further commercialization and propagation, applications for contained use, and even importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on at least a temporary basis.

The Supreme Court released its decision during their last regular session of the year yesterday.

As for the details of the decision, essentially the Supreme Court supported a lower court decision by the Philippine Court of Appeals which included all these provisions. In that ruling, that court ruled that existing laws by both the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) are “insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and the health of the people”. They also said, using the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, that “the overall safety guarantee of the Bt talong ‘remains unknown’”.

Those seeking the ban on Bt talong were a group of respondents headed by Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippines. Their counterparts who supported allowing Bt talong to proceed included the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc., the Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, and University of the Philippines. The last two on the list were universities involved one way or another in the development and/or testing of the crops.

Bt talong is part of a class of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in which gene sections both from a normal unmodified eggplant variant and a bacterium that is toxic to certain insect pests that would normally attack eggplant are, more or less, mixed together to create a unique GMO which is part eggplant, part bacterium.

Those who developed Bt talong and its counterparts defend the creation of this kind of product as something that will help produce crops with higher yields because the insect pests will die if they attempt to consume the GMO eggplant variants during the growth cycle.

Those who are against the GMO product variant challenge it because it creates a product with a built-in toxin producer that everyone else eating the product must consume. There is also a parallel but very important issue that once these GMO crops are planted in soil, seed generated naturally in the process of growing the crops will spread and become potentially unstoppable if a harmful situation were discovered from the use of the crops.

Also, since in many countries GMOs are often protected by patents as a uniquely company-created species, when the seed from already-harvested crops spreads across adjacent farmers’ lands, the companies who created the patented crops have used patent infringement laws to block those farmers from being able to harvest their fields that are now at least partially contaminated with GMO items.

In their closing comments about the case, the Philippine Supreme Court was quite clear about its decision and did not seem to leave a great deal of flexibility for GMO proponents. As they said in closing comments about their decision, “In sum, current scientific research indicates that the biotech industry has not sufficiently addressed the uncertainties over the safety of genetically modified foods and crops”.

The Supreme Court also said the administrative order that would have allowed for the field testing of Bt talong Eggplant is sufficiently unsafe that it does not meet the minimum requirement of the Philippine’s National Biosafety Framework.