Consumers warned vs. Bt talong, as CA urged to uphold landmark decision

June 29, 2013

Dr. Romeo Quijano: Bt talong poses serious risks to human health and environment (Pinoy Weekly)

Dr. Romeo Quijano: Bt talong poses serious risks to human health and environment (Pinoy Weekly)

Consumers, scientists, and farmers urged the Court of Appeals (CA) to uphold its landmark decision to stop the commercialization of Bt talong or genetically-modified (GM) eggplant due to concerns over its adverse effects on health and the environment.

Petitioners who filed a Writ of Kalikasan (Writ of Nature) against the Bt talong field trials raised alarm over renewed pressure from the biotechnology industry for the CA to reverse its decision. Last May 17, 2013, the CA ordered a permanent cease of Bt talong field trials and rehabilitation of the environment.

However, respondents of the case, led by the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños, have filed a motion for reconsideration, and even come up with full-page newspaper advertisements attesting to the safety of Bt talong.

In a media forum, multi-sectoral alliance Resist (Resist Agrochemical TNCs) reiterated that Bt talong is potentially dangerous and only strengthens the control over agriculture of agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs) selling GM products.

“The Court of Appeals has based its decision on the fact that there was no full scientific certainty on the effects of Bt talong to human health and environment. This is enough reason for the court to prevent the field trials,” said Dr. Romeo Quijano, a medical doctor and toxicologist from UP Manila and co-petitioner against the Bt talong field trials.

“No independent tests were conducted to ascertain the safety of Bt talong to human health. The Bt talong field trials were conducted only to test the efficacy and agricultural performance of the product,” he added.

Atty. Zelda Soriano, counsel for the petitioners, said that the CA also based its decision on the lack of a governing law and safety regulations on GM products, and its relevance to public policy.

“The court acknowledges that is not a purely scientific activity. Those who are affected must be consulted and engaged in the process. The public needs to give its consent because they will be the one to assume the serious risks associated with Bt talong,” Soriano said.

Associated risks

Bt talong is an eggplant genetically modified to produce a toxin to combat the Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB). Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacteria whose genes are inserted to the eggplant to produce toxins against FSB.

Proponents of Bt talong claim that this will reduce the use of pesticides. But Quijano, steering council member of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, said that this was untrue.

Quijano said that even its name indicates that every inch of the Bt plant has a harmful toxin, which is “a thousand times more concentrated than the (pesticide) spray.”

He cited scientific studies, including those submitted to the CA as evidence, which belie the biotechnology industry’s claim that the Bt toxin is only harmful to insects and that it disappears upon digestion by mammals and humans. “Numerous laboratory experiments show that mice react to the Bt toxin, several developed cancer and had their red blood cells and immune system damaged,” Quijano said.

Experiences of Filipino farmers planting Bt corn also show that people react to it, having allergic reactions during the flowering of the plant, or stomachaches upon eating the corn, he said.

Bt corn has been commercialized in the Philippines since 2002.

Quijano also added that insects eventually develop resistance to the Bt toxin, thus compelling farmers to use pesticides. Herbicide-tolerant genes are also eventually inserted into Bt crops, as in the case of Bt corn, thus increasing the use of herbicides.  “Worldwide, there is no Bt crop being planted today that do not still require massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides,” he said.

Dr. Chito Medina, environmental scientist and co-petitioner for farmer-scientist group Masipag (Magsasaka at Syentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), meanwhile warned that even consumers who don’t want to eat GM products may have no choice, because of the high potential of contamination as well as the lack of a GM labelling law.

“The Bt talong field trials can contaminate non-GM crops, thus undermining not only the farmers’ freedom of choice in seeds and technology, but the consumers’ right to information and freedom of choice as well,” he said.

Medina pointed out that the eggplant is mostly insect-pollinated, so contamination is highly likely.

Laudable decision 

He lauded the CA decision, pointing out a similar decision by the Indian government to stop the commercialization of genetically-modified eggplant because of concerns over public safety and its effects on biodiversity.

Meanwhile, Rafael Mariano, national chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said that only agrochemical TNCs such as Monsanto and Syngenta, which lead the  biotechnology industry, stand to gain from the commercialization of Bt talong.

He also cited the case of Bt corn, wherein “more and more farmers became indebted” due to the increase in the use and price of corn farming inputs.

“We urge the CA to stand by its decision to permanently desist the proponents from continuing Bt talong field trials. There are better alternatives and agricultural systems that will ensure better incomes for the farmers, safe food for the consumers and protection to the environment,” Mariano said.