Statement of the Philippine Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology on the Supreme Court decision on Bt talong
[ISAAA ET AL. VS. GREENPEACE SOUTHEAST ASIA (PHILS) ET AL. (G. R. NOS. 209271, 209276, 209301, AND 209430)]
The Philippine Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (PSBMB) expresses its disagreement on the decision of the venerable Supreme Court of the Philippines related to Bt talong, to wit: 1) banning of Bt talong field testing; 2) asserting that the Department of Agriculture Order No. 08, series of 2002 also known as the “Rules and Regulations for the Importation and Release into the Environment of Plants and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology” is now otherwise NULL AND VOID; and 3) any application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization and importation of genetically modified organisms is temporarily halted until a new administrative order is promulgated with accordance to preexisting laws. Due to the various issues related to the potential effects of the Supreme Court’s decision not only to the agricultural industry but also to other fields and industries such as medicine and pharmaceutical industry, the import-export sectors, food and feed industry etc, which can impact the greater Filipino population in general, the PSBMB along with the rest of the Philippine scientific community appeals to the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the banning of importation as well as field testing not only of the Bt talong but of other genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in general.
Even if GMOs seem very novel and unique in the past decades, in reality humans have been undertaking genetic manipulation ever since the beginning of time. During the early days of human civilization, agriculture was borne out of the need to provide food and food surplus for off-seasons through the development of various agricultural techniques such as breeding to obtain high yield or pest resistance. 1 In this aspect, many GMOs that are provided as crops or livestock are no different from the multitudes of hybrid plants and animals which are products of crude methods of biotechnology and yet have already been accepted by the agricultural industry for a very long time. In essence, GMOs and hybrid organisms are the same, with the former having been the product of careful gene selection and its integration into the organism’s entire gene set while the latter being the product of repeatedly mating organisms and combining random genes into the offspring in hopes that at least one important gene would become permanently ingrained in the DNA and in turn the organism’s entire line of descendants as well. 2 It is rather unfortunate, however, that the Supreme Court was not given a chance to even see this similar aspect between GMOs and conventional hybrid varieties which would have allowed for a better and informed decision with regards to the ruling of field testing on Bt talong and other GMOs, and with such ruling any further study by local scientists that could improve food security and livelihoods for and by the Filipinos have been halted altogether.
On the potential impact of the transgenic plants to other organisms, it should be recalled that long before the Bt toxin contained in the Bt talong was transferred to the common eggplant, non-chemical and bacterial-based insecticides such as Bt (Bacillus thuringensis) sprays have been used for over 100 years. In addition, due to the lack of chemical pesticide residues since these are technically not chemical pesticides, Bt sprays have also been considered to be a key component in improving organic farming yield. The Bt toxin which is the active ingredient in Bt sprays has long been proven safe and it only targets certain insects which have receptors for the Bt toxin such as Lepidopteran pests i.e. corn borers. It shows that crops containing Bt genes have a strong built-in ability to ward off target pests3 and are thus are far safer than synthetic pesticides which can harm a wider range of organisms from various insects to birds and especially mammals such as humans.
Such information is particularly important since prior to being genetically-modified, many crops such as eggplants if not protected by heavy dose of inorganic pesticides are readily infected by pests which not only decrease the supply in the market but also incur huge losses for farmers.4 Such results are contrasted by the successful commercial propagation of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh with none of its alleged potential damage for more than two years, attesting to its broad benefits in terms of increased yield, reduced pesticide application, high-quality fruits and higher farmers’ income.5 However, with our Supreme Court swayed into stopping Bt eggplant research that will establish the benefits of GMO technology through reduced chemical pesticide usage, this also implies that the Supreme court favors the human consumption of chemical pesticide-soaked eggplant. On the other hand, the GM eggplant which only has the Bt toxin does not affect consumers since it is simply digested in the stomach just like any other protein that people eat.
The PSBMB therefore supports the recently issued statement by the National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST-PHL) which expressed its grave concern on the serious negative effect of the Supreme Court’s decision not just on the Philippines’ research community but also on the national food security including export and import of GMO and nonGMO products. 6
1 Barrows, G., S. Sexton, and D. Zilberman. "Agricultural biotechnology: the promise and prospects of
genetically modified crops." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (2014): 99-119.
2 Ammann, K. "Genomic Misconception: a fresh look at the biosafety of transgenic and conventional
crops. A plea for a process agnostic regulation." New biotechnology 31, no. 1 (2014): 1-17.
3 Tian, J.C., Yao, J., Long, L.P., Romeis, J. and Shelton, A.M. “Bt crops benefit natural enemies to
control non-target pests.” Scientific reports, 5 (2014): pp.16636-16636.
4 Chupungco, A. R., Elazegui, D. D., and Nguyen, M. R. "Seed system, production and marketing of
eggplant in three major producing provinces in the Philippines." Philippine Journal of Crop
Science 36, no. 2 (2011): 37-47.
5 Silva Dias, J. and Ortiz, R. “Advances in transgenic vegetable and fruit breeding.” Agricultural
Sciences, 5 (2014): 1448-1467. doi: 10.4236/as.2014.514156.
6 National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST-PHL). "Statement of the National
Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST-PHL) on the Supreme Court Decision on
Bt talong [ISAAA et al. vs Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Phils) et al. (G.R. Nos. 209271, 209276,
209301, and 209430)]." Taguig City, January 8, 2016.