Scientists have been able to create new organisms by altering their genetic material. Through advanced biotechnology, they recombine genetic material of two or more organisms that they consider desirable. These experiments have resulted in the creation of genetically modified organisms (also called transgenic organisms).
However, many environmentalists find such processes controversial. Lately, the environmentalist group Greenpeace have sought a writ of kalikasan (or legal protection for the environment) and is asking the Department of Agriculture to stop all trials and releases of genetically modified crops following the release of its new report that allegedly confirms the dangers of cultivating genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, protect and conserve the environment, and promote peace.
It warns that the government’s “loose and cavalier policy” favoring the open cultivation of GMO crops is effectively transforming the Philippines into an unprotected test site for dangerous crops with far-reaching and irreversible ecological consequences.
The report focuses on Bt eggplant, a GMO variety currently being field-tested in the Philippines, details how the spread of the genetically-modified Bt gene can cause eggplant to be an aggressive and problematic weed, threatening to overpower similar varieties.
Greenpeace maintains that GMOs grown in fields contaminate normal crops, threaten farmers’ livelihoods, and are dangerous to human health. The group called on the Department of Agriculture to stop all field trials of GMOs in the country,
“GMO crops should not be cultivated outdoors anywhere in the world. When they are grown in important areas of diversity, like the Philippines, the serious risks of widespread contamination are magnified. In the case of Bt talong, with its built-in insect-resistance gene, this poses risks of creating aggressive weeds that may wreak havoc to local agriculture and natural habitats,” said Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“GMOs have never been proven safe, which is why they are highly regulated and even banned in many countries and regions. This report is but the latest addition to the growing body of scientific evidence which shows that GMOs are dangerous to our health and our environment, and pose significant threats to sustainable farming practices,” he added.
The whole of South to Southeast Asia is the primary diversification centre for eggplant, home to its greatest morphological diversity (i.e. range of landraces and cultivars). India is its centre of diversity.
Meanwhile, the Philippines has a recorded 500 varieties of eggplant and related species. However, the report, an independent study commissioned by Greenpeace, cites that a major concern is the possibility that the newly introduced GMO gene, which provides the Bt eggplant with its own built-in insecticide, will confer a selective advantage that may enable it to out-compete and overrun natural vegetation.
Not long ago, Greenpeace also exposed the results of 90-day lab tests conducted by GMO proponents on mice fed with Bt eggplant, which showed signs of toxicity in the liver and kidneys of the test subjects. Studies on Bt corn varieties, already being planted in the Philippines, also show similar results.
Greenpeace and other environmental organizations, scientists, farmers groups, local governments and non-government organizations have been calling for a stop to the open field trials of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant, as well as outdoor cultivation of other GMO varieties. Bt eggplant refers to a specie genetically modified by incorporating a gene from the common soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis.
Field trials of Bt eggplant are currently being carried out in four provinces with plans to propagate the controversial crop in other places in the country such as in the Ilocos Region. In December 2010, the local government of Davao City took decisive precautionary action by uprooting Bt eggplant trials being conducted by the UP Mindanao Foundation.
Greenpeace urged the government to heed the precautionary principle and apply greater restraint in the approval of GMOs into the country whether for food, feed or processing, saying that the 59 GMO approvals issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry in the last 10 years undermines attempts to mainstream organic and ecological agricuiture.
“Every time we plant GMOs, we create an ecological problem. Every time we eat them, we put our health at risk. It’s time that all of us, especially the government, recognize the dangers of GMOs,” said Ocampo.
“Government regulators should focus on sustainable agriculture instead of loosely allowing the conduct of field trials and commercialization of such crops for eventual human consumption. Can we hold responsible officials from the DA (Department of Agriculture) and BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry) accountable when serious and irreversible damage to the environment and public health occurs as a consequence of their actions? ” he asked.
Meanwhile, another genetically modified crop, the Bt corn, is the subject of another study that says its special qualities may not be able to check the infestation of the corn borer, its leading pest.
Asian corn borer (ACB) pest populations in the Philippines continues to be susceptible to the insect resistant Bt corn, reported Dr. Edwin Alcantara, University Researcher at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology ‐ University of the Philippines Los Baños (BIOTECH‐UPLB).
In his lecture titled “Monitoring Cry1ab Susceptibility in Asian Corn Borer on Bt Corn in the Philippines” for the BIOTECH Monthly Seminar, Dr. Alcantara said that so far, no field‐ evolved ACB resistance has been detected after almost ten years of Bt corn adoption in the Philippines.
In the study of Dr. Alcantara and UPLB-Biotech colleagues, the baseline susceptibility of several ACB populations to the protein Cry1ab was first estimated. From the baseline bioassay data, the scientists then identified and validated a diagnostic concentration to several populations of ACB. This concentration is currently being used to monitor development of ACB resistance in eight biotech corn‐producing provinces in the Philippines.
Dr. Alcantara said that monitoring of resistance in ACB to Bt corn is part of responsible stewardship of transgenic technology that has brought forth genetically modified organisms, including crops, in the world. - Nora. O Gamolo