Farmers back Bt eggplant, Searca says

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) said on Thursday it has collected more than 700 signatures from farmers nationwide in support of the commercialization of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant in the Philippines.

Searca Biotechnology Information Center Special Projects Coordinator Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena said the declaration of support from the farmers will be sent to the Department of Agriculture (DA). She said this will serve as proof that they consulted the farmers regarding the issue.

“I’m not sure if [the signature campaign] can be used for the case against Bt eggplant at the Supreme Court [SC]. But this will show that we consulted our farmers regarding their stand on the issue,” Villena said.

Earlier, the SC has allowed the farmers to intervene in the Bt eggplant case.

In 2013 the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a writ of kalikasan, ordering the DA Bureau of Plant Industry, UPLB Foundation Inc. and UP Mindanao Foundation Inc. to stop field trials of the genetically modified (GM) eggplant.

However, Villena said the CA ruling was issued when the field trials made by the scientists were already over, so the issue now is on the commercialization of the GM crop.

The signature campaign, which started in September last year, was supported by farmers from provinces such as Pangasinan, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Cagayan de Oro, Camarines Sur and Isabela.

Of the 700 signatures, 106 came from farmers in Region 2. The signatures were collected during a public dialogue on Bt eggplant, which aims to inform farmers of the science and the effects of the biotechnology.

The conference was held in Ilagan, Isabela, on Wednesday. “The support here was better than we expected. They are not hard to convince because they are already familiar with GM technology,” Villena said.

Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader of the Bt Eggplant Project of the UPLB Institute of Plant Breeding, said in her presentation that the crop is “safe to human and other nontarget organisms.”

The GM crop is resistant to the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), which she called the most serious insect pest that affect the crop. EFSB, she said, can cause yield loss of up to 80 percent.

Taylo said the use of the Bt eggplant can prevent associated health and environment hazards that are caused by frequent spraying of chemicals.

The science used in Bt eggplant is the same as the one used in Bt corn, according to Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita, senior program officer of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

She said the province of Isabela was the first area in the Philippines to adopt the planting of the Bt corn. Currently Isabela has the biggest Bt corn plantation area in the country.

Lorenzo Camanguian, director of the DA in Region 2, said in his opening remarks that Cagayan Valley is the leading corn producer in the country, contributing 25 percent of the total output.

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