Davao Scandal: Eggplant Scandal in Davao

ENVIRONMENT groups slammed University of the Philippines-Mindanao’s plan to continue with the field testing of the genetically modified Bt eggplant in the face of opposition from the City Council, host barangay and organic farmers.

Lawyer Lee Aruelo, Third World Network associate and member of the Go Organic Mindanao, said that UP Mindanao’s insistence on pushing with the field trials under the justification that they are conducting confined and not open-field trials is an exercise in subterfuge.

Media reports revealed that UP Mindanao would push through with the field testing and quoted Dr. Eufemio Rasco, head of the field testing at the university, as saying he feared that people might be incited to harm their experiment, declining to give details about the exact time and date of the actual planting of Bt eggplant within the Bago Oshiro campus.

“Even if they erect fences around the eggplant fields to show that they are confined, there will still be pollen drift which will heighten the risk of contamination among nearby local eggplant varieties,” she said.

Pollen drift refers to the transfer of pollen among flowers through insects. In the case of eggplants, bees have been identified as playing a major role in the pollination of the eggplant.

Aruelo pointed out that international studies have shown that bees can carry genetically engineered material over several kilometers.

“It’s ridiculous to assume that fences alone will keep the pollinators out. The fact that you have an open sky over your eggplant field will mean that the escape of the Bt eggplant transgene to the neighboring local eggplant variety is inevitable,” she said.

The Bt transgene, which was taken from the soil bacterium Bacillus thurigiensis and added to the eggplant by scientists in India, has been the subject of much controversy since the resulting product, the Bt talong, did not undergo the full complement of risk assessment tests.

Meanwhile, the Partido Kalikasan also assailed UP Mindanao’s decision not to reveal the time and place of the planting. In a statement, Roy Cabonegro, Secretary General, said that “denying them (the communities) even the basic information about these types of experiments violated their right to know”.

He also called on the government to choose between organic or chemical/GMO agriculture.

“They cannot co-exist,” he said, reiterating Partido Kalikasan’s stand that it is for organic agriculture.

Mayor Sara Duterte had already written to UP Mindanao, asking the university not to go through with the open-field trial as it violates the city’s Organic Agriculture ordinance. The Davao City Council also passed a resolution supporting the Mayor’s stand. The village head of Bago Oshiro also said the local community is against the field testing.

Bt talong is the first genetically modified table food that is being fast-tracked for commercialization in the Philippines by 2011. Davao City is one of the seven open-field testing sites nationwide for the genetically modified talong.

The development of the Bt talong is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and the American multinational company Monsanto developed the Bt technology.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 01, 2010.

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