A farmer-scientist group, MASIPAG, have spearheaded a forum to shed light on the developments and possible impacts of Bt Talong to food and agriculture.
Talong, or eggplant is a popular food for Filipinos as it is very cheap and easy to cultivate. Bt Talong, however is a genetically modified eggplant wherein genes of the bacillus thuringiensis bacteria has been artificially inserted to the crop to produce toxins against the Fruit and Shoot Borer. Bt Eggplant was developed by an Indian seed company Mahyco and is sublicensed to the Institute of Plant Breeding-UPLB. Dr. Desiree Hautea of IPB-UPLB is the proponent of the testing and commercialization of the Bt talong in the country.
Early this year, the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) has been conducting field trials of the Bt talong. It has finished its first field trial last July, however, another field trial is set to commence this October. Data from this field trial, including the data from five testing sites in the country shall be used as basis for the eventual commercialization of Bt talong by 2011.
MASIPAG however, called for the immediate halt of the said field trial as these may pose irreversible damages to the surrounding native crops and potential health hazards to the communities.
“We call on the immediate halt of the said field trial because until today, we have yet to receive reports if the said crop would be safe to eat and would offer no harmful effects to the environment. If there are no safety data, it is imperative that the field tests be stopped to protect the surrounding communities from the potential hazards of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), Bt talong in particular. If the field test would not stop, it would also mean one step ahead on its commercialization” said Dr Chito Medina, national coordinator of MASIPAG.
Medina said that these concerns were not simply perceived fears on the crop. He referred to the earlier decision this year of the Indian Minister on Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh wherein he has put a moratorium on the commercialization of the Bt eggplant until scientific studies including health and environmental safety has been established to the satisfaction of both the public and the professionals.
“It would be very foolish if the Philippines would approve the eventual release of Bt talong if India itself, where the Bt talong was developed, has decided to put a moratorium on the commercialization of the crop” said Medina.
Pepito Babasa, a farmer from Bato, Camarines Sur is also very concerned on the field tests being done at CBSUA.
“For me, I think that Bt talong is not needed by farmers. As you can see, here in Bato the price of talong sold by farmers is only 3 pesos a kilo. I believe that we do have a good production of talong so we do not need another technology which is not proven safe and expensive. There are also other alternatives to control pests. I am concerned because if the commercialization is approved, we will eat talong without knowing if it is has poison” he said. He also said that it could also contaminate native talong varieties due to cross-pollination.
Gary Perlado, Masipag Luzon coordinator for Bicol also said that no consultations or public information was done on the field test of Bt talong.
“We have interviewed the Municipal Agriculturist Office and even the Mayor of Pili and they all said that they did not know that field tests are being done at CBSUA. It is stated that the proponents should inform the municipality and that a resolution be made approving the field tests” said Perlado.
“We hope that by doing this forum, we could enlighten CBSUA and the Bicolanos on the hazards of the field tests of Bt talong. We also urge the president of CBSUA to immediately stop the 2nd planting of Bt talong this October and look into the issues surrounding GMOs. We also know that CBSUA is gearing to be the center of organic agriculture in the province. However, organic agriculture forbids the planting of GMOs. This would contradict the university’s vision to be a center for organic agriculture” added Perlado.
MASIPAG claimed that because of loose regulations on bio-safety, the Philippines tops other Asian countries in approving the importation of a number of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Bt talong is said to be the first Genetically Modified crop developed by a public institute in the country and the first to approve the commercialization of Bt eggplant in Asia.
MASIPAG is a Filipino farmer’s network that practices sustainable agriculture, genetic conservation and sharing of farmer knowledge for more than twenty years. Created during the height of food insecurity and debt trap of the green revolution, the group dared to unmask the myths of IRRI’s miracle seeds and its package of technologies and to revive and improve indigenous rice varieties that would not require imported inputs and generate appropriate technologies attuned to farmer’s problems and needs.