Farmer-Scientist group defends decision of SC on Bt talong

The recent ruling of the Supreme Court halting the field trials of Bt talong (eggplant) is a sounding victory of farmers and consumers not only in the Philippines, but the rest of the world as well. This also goes to show that even in small acts, small and resource poor farmers can participate and make a difference in forwarding their rights for safe food and healthy environment.

The unanimous decision of the magistrates clearly illustrates the many loopholes of the current policy that oversees the use of GMOs. This was abused by biotech giants, in connivance with subservient local scientists, in order to profit from the commercialization of these products. For more than a decade, we have been the testing ground of these unwanted and hazardous technologies that have contaminated our native varieties and our food systems. This landmark judgment, we hope, will be a precedent in making health and safety a priority in decisions pertaining to new but untested and usually unwanted technologies such as GMOs in food and agriculture.

The Supreme Court’s decision has carved a path to make science more responsive to health and environmental safety. Core to the court’s decision is the application of the Precautionary Principle. The court, which has acted on evidences presented (both by the petitioners and respondents) and the current state of GMOs worldwide, finds three conditions present on the case – uncertainty, the possibility of irreversible harm and the possibility of serious harm – which warranted the application of the precautionary principle. If we are to read the decision, the magistrates sees no full scientific proof, and that no clear and definite answers were presented by the respondents to warrant safety of Bt talong on people’s health and the environment.

The court also cited the non-implementation of the National Biosafety Framework (a inter-agency responsibility of DA, DOST, DENR, DOH etc) in the crucial stages of risk assessment, shallow public consultation and the non-performance of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS law) as additional compelling basis for safety. Thus the court not only based its decision on technical issues but also ventured into public policies governing GMOs, warranting the stoppage of the Bt talong field trials and nullifying the DA Administrative Order No.8 (DA AO8) as basis for approving and regulating field testing and commercialization.

Indeed the petitioners are not anti-science; however they demand more science, truth and transparency to ascertain safety of GMOs and needs clear and solid proof that GMOs would truly uplift the socioeconomic state of our small and resource-poor farmers.

So we are very beleaguered to the fact that a lot of people, especially coming from the so-called independent science community, have come at the forefront to defend GMOs and the government’s pro-GM and pro-corporate policy. Statements coming from Dr Michael Purugganan, Dr Emil Javier and the UPLB LABS criticized the decision of the Supreme Court, stating that the decision would strike down science and with it the food security and future of agriculture in the Philippines. They even cited the loss of thesis and research grants and other opportunities, the effect to the animal industry as these are heavily reliant on imported GM soy, the incomes of thousands of corn farmers planting GM corn in the country and the life’s work of scientists surrounding GMOs.

Contrary to their instigations, it is the huge biotech corporations helped by corporate scientists, local businessmen and the government who have long ago high jacked science and agriculture in the Philippines.

The fact that for more than a decade, GM corn caused socioeconomic inequities among small and resource-poor farmers and environmental problems. In our research, farmers using GM corn experienced further indebtedness caused by the steep prices of inputs resulting to loss of ownership of lands and control over their seeds. Monoculture GM corn farming also affected local food security due to loss of agrobiodiversity and soil erosion. Even if the Philippines is an agricultural country, we have been heavily reliant in importing GM food and feeds coming mainly from the US.

GM corn, which the government has said helped making the country corn secure, has now wreaked havoc into the environment and farmers health. Stacked-trait corn (with Bt and herbicide tolerant traits) which comprises more than 90% of the total GM corn planted in the country is being doused with herbicide Glyphosate, a Type II A Carcinogenic substance classified by the WHO. It is estimated that more than 6 million liters of Glyphosate for 800,000 hectares of GM corn were poured in the country in 2014 alone. GM corn has also contaminated native and traditional corn varieties which are consumed by our small farmers and indigenous communities. These actual proofs should be more than enough to call for the banning of GM corn. These studies however, are not recognized by subservient scientists, pseudo-NGOs/company puppets and cohorts in the government.

The current state of agriculture in the Philippines is very dismal, as science professionals are more interested in protecting their works and grants while turning a blind eye on the real impacts of these technologies to the lives and livelihood of our Filipino farmers. The so-called scientists and their ideals are the favorite workshops of huge transnational companies, conniving to make the Philippines more food insufficient and backward.

Yes, in every advancement we need to take risks. But these risks should not be taken in the name of the people who will be affected. To date, no reliable biosafety parameters and protocols to ascertain environmental and health safety is in place. In the case of Bt talong, field trials were commenced before health and safety tests were implemented. It is important to note that Bt talong, as a product of genetic modification is different from native eggplants; thus policies such as the National Biosafety Framework, and international commitments like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the CBD should be complied to protect the people and environment from an accidental or deliberate exposure of GMOs.

We thus call on the people and the farmers to protect their victory against GMOs and the corporate advancement to food and agriculture. We also call on the pro-GMO camp to accept the verdict and, as people of reason and objectivity as they call themselves, to overhaul the policies to ensure that it will truly safeguard to the people’s right to health and environment. We also call on them to immerse with the small and resource-poor farmers, know their real needs and issues so that they may reflect on themselves that the country does not need these GMOs. Further, we call a more people-oriented agricultural science which will address the backward state of agriculture which our state is in for many decades.#

· Supreme Court Decision on Bt talong, GR No 209271, December 8, 2015
· Socio-econimic Impact of Genetically Modified Corn in the Philippines, Magsasaka at Siyenitpiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, 2013