This letter is in Response to the article, “DA biotech experts rap Greenpeace” (Business Mirror, 15 August 2011, page B3).

We feel that Dr. Candida Adalla, chief of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Biotechnology Implementing Unit (BIU) may herself be the one over-simplifying the issue when she said that Greenpeace is “simply demonizing genetically modified (GM) crops.” Greenpeace would like to reiterate that our call to DA Secretary Prospero Alcala is to order a halt of all ongoing field trials and investigate why these are still pushing through despite the lack of the required conclusive risk assessments to eliminate possible safety issues in confined or contained laboratory conditions prior to exposing the Bt eggplant in open field trials.

In this particular instance, the words “evil” and “subverts nature” are her words, not ours. The recent challenge we made to Sec. Alcala (“Greenpeace: Stop GMO trials” Business Mirror, 14 August 2011, page A3) never tackled our view of GMOs, and merely focused on the conduct of the field trials, which we believe goes very much against the Precautionary Principle of science.

Dr. Adalla asked “why Greenpeace is opposed to the conduct of field trials of Bt eggplant and would want Alcala to simply end such experiments without any compelling evidence that Bt eggplant harms the environment and should not be the subject of scientific inquiry.” Well, we know that there is no compelling evidence that Bt eggplant will NOT harm the environment and that is precisely why the field trials should be the subject of scientific inquiry. And isn’t scientific inquiry exactly what we all should be looking at in the case of GMOs, and what she has sworn to uphold?

With due respect, we also would like to correct the statement that “India has not banned Bt eggplant.” The Indian government has actually passed a moratorium on its commercialization, since the scientific dossier used by the seven research institutions as basis for approving its commercialization have been proven by other scientists to have been done very sloppily and did not present compelling, conclusive scientific evidence to eliminate doubts about its safety.

India went through extensive public consultations conducted in several states, debates, and scientific presentations from both those in favour and those against the commercial release of Bt eggplant. The same issues tackled in India are being raised in the Philippines. But instead of being required to address them, DA Administrative Order #8 merely asks GMO proponents to post a Public Information Sheet (which we doubt members of the local communities around the field trial sites even got to see) to serve as a form of public consultation. Is that what our scientific policy is down to now? Meeting the minimum requirements of sorely lacking regulatory policies even if it goes below the bare minimum requirements of science?

Most of the unapproved, unsafe and illegal GMOs that have contaminated the world’s food supply did not come from commercial release, but from field trials such as those that (continue to be) were conducted in three sites in the Philippines. Seriously, how can 200 meters of “isolation” of an open field stop pollen spreaders such as bees, much less birds that can migrate thousands of kilometres? And how about the staff that enters the field trials without protective gear and decontamination before leaving the trial site?

These are just some of the questions surrounding the field trials that remain unanswered. Right now, all we’re asking is for the DA to do its duty and stop the field trials, at least until sound scientific risk assessments have answered even the basic questions about safety. The government, as well as members of the scientific community, should look into its ranks to see why these field trials are able to push through despite sorely lacking scientific requirements.

Our concern here is safety. And it is not only scientists who would be eating Bt eggplant and GMOs when they contaminate our environment, but everyone. And, until we have scientific proof otherwise, it may even be the children of our children who will pay the price for our looking the other way...