Thursday, April 26, 2012

GMO Ban Petition in the Philippines © VJ Villafranca / Greenpeace

In a landmark decision the Philippine Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Greenpeace Philippines and other petitioners who launched a court case against on-going field trials of genetically engineered (GE) Bt eggplant.

 The Supreme Court decision on Friday sets an important precedent in that it establishes that GE, and in particular GE Bt eggplant, violates the constitutional rights of individuals to a healthy environment. No other court in the world has upheld such a stance against genetically engineered organisms (GEOs). This landmark decision will become subject to national and international legal discourse in years to come.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that GE Bt eggplant violates the public’s constitutional rights to a healthy environment and therefore recognized the scientific uncertainties of the health and environmental safety of GE Bt eggplant. It ordered the respondents, including the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to justify the field testing of GE Bt eggplant in the country within the next 10 days.

The petitioners had filed a writ of kalikasan, which is a unique Philippine legal remedy for people whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthy ecology is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.

In seeking the writ, the petitioners highlighted the need to first ensure the safety of GE Bt eggplant on health and environmental grounds before it is released into the open through field trials.

The petitioners also asked the court to halt all GE Bt eggplant field trials in the country on the basis of scientific uncertainties of the GE technology and the questionable regulatory process. Currently, regulators are approving almost 100% of all GE applications, which brings into question whether the applications are properly scrutinised before approval.

The Supreme Court decision puts the debate on the health and environmental safety of GEOs in the public spotlight. It also turns the tables on the debate, calling the proponents of GEOs to produce all evidence to inform the public of its safety – which has thus far been a highly contested area of debate.

Internationally, this victory emphasises the growing public rejection against GEOs. It also calls on the international community to subject GEO field trials to higher public scrutiny, as countries, particularly developing countries in Asia, are being turned into dumping areas and test grounds for GEOs that have been rejected in other countries.

In 2010 India issued a moratorium against GE Bt eggplant. As such, efforts have been set in place to ensure approval in the Philippines where the biosafety regulation is more relaxed.

Industry, in particular Monsanto, has been at the forefront of developing and pushing for GE Bt eggplant in India and in the Philippines as a gate opener for other GE vegetables. Based on figures from the top 20 eggplant producers in the world in 2010, the eggplant industry is worth more than US$8 billion per year, which explains Monsanto’s interest in having GE Bt eggplants approved.

Other countries must remain vigilant. After having failed to get GE Bt eggplant approved in India and the Philippines, the industry will attempt to push acceptance in other countries. But as Greenpeace has argued and as the Supreme Court decision shows, GE Bt eggplant poses a threat to health and the environment and violates the basic rights of individuals.

Didit Pelegrina is Senior Campaigner for Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering (Asia), Greenpeace International