Greenpeace calls on Philippine government to abandon Bt Talong

Feature story - September 29, 2010
Greenpeace and other members of the Network Opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (NO2GMOs) today called on the government to immediately stop all field trials of genetically engineered Bt Talong, a.k.a. Bt Eggplant, and follow the example of the Indian government, which declared a moratorium on the commercialisation of the vegetable, citing safety concerns.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dr. Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, one of the world’s foremost biologists, and member of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of India, warn the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture about the dangers of conducting open field trials of Bt Eggplant in the absence of adequate and accurate scientific data and testing of its impact on environment and human health. © Greenpeace / AC Dimatatac

Dr. Pushpa Bhargava, one of the world’s foremost biologists, and member of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of India, warned the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture about the dangers of conducting open field trials of Bt Eggplant in the absence of adequate and accurate scientific data and testing of its impact on environment and human health. Dr. Bhargava spoke at a forum conducted by Greenpeace and the NO2GMOs network today at the Environmental Studies Institute of Miriam College.
 
The Bt Eggplant (“Brinjal” in India), purportedly designed to be Fruit-and-Shoot-Borer-Resistant, was created with the insertion of a gene [Cry 1Ac] from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (hence the name “Bt”), along with other genes like promoters, markers etc. This gives the eggplant resistance against lepidopteron insects or “borers”. It is reported that upon ingestion of the Bt toxin by the insect, its digestive processes are disrupted, ultimately resulting in its death.
 
“I was taken aback by the poor scientific quality of the report, which neither tells the entire truth nor has taken into account the enormous amount of highly reliable scientific literature on the various risks of GE crops,” Dr. Bhargava said in reference to the recent report, submitted to the Indian government by the six science academies of India, which declared it safe for cultivation and human consumption.  The report in question is based solely on the dossier and studies made by the local subsidiary of Monsanto in India, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), which created Bt Eggplant.
 
According to Dr. Bhargava, no proteomics studies were conducted to make sure that no harmful chemicals were generated during the process of genetic modification.  Toxicity studies were also limited to a 90-day observation, when a longer chronic toxicity study is recommended to examine, for example, the possibilities of tumors or cancer development.  An intergenerational study is also required to determine the effects of genetic modification on subsequent generations.
 
As for the eggplant itself, the Monsanto dossier used a different toxin (improper Cry1 toxin) from the one found in Bt Egplant, rendering the toxicity test in the report useless. Bt Eggplant also has a different alkaloid content, and much lower kcal can be obtained from it, compared to natural eggplants, which goes against claims by GE proponents that Bt Eggplant will be beneficial to Filipinos. It also has resistance to streptomycin, a widely used antibiotic. Scientists are worried that this trait may be transferred to other organisms, such as people or viruses, which may render antibiotic medicines useless.
 
“There are seven sites chosen for the field trials of Bt eggplant this coming October and the town of Sta. Maria in Pangasinan, where eggplant is the number one high value crop,  is among them.  Most of the government officials, farmers and residents are unaware of the risks that could result from conducting these field trials,” said Atty. Lee Aruelo of the Third World Network another member organisation of NO2GMOs.  “Contamination of traditional and indigenous varieties of eggplant will have a detrimental effect on the production of non-genetically engineered eggplant in Pangasinan and all the other trials sites.”
 
NO2GMOs is asking the government to at least hold off plans to commercialize Bt Eggplant until plausible independent studies and proper public consultations are carried out.
 
 “GE proponents should stop pulling their money and influence to force field testing in communities that are not informed, much less prepared.  We need more conclusive scientific proof that risks are effectively eliminated before we can even consider field testing. It’s very risky, the conditions are not as easy to control as in a confined lab. We don’t know the rate of contamination and what this unnatural fusion can do to other crops, much less to other organisms and people who consume agricultural products.  Where is the consultative process in all this?” asked Daniel M. Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, one of the member organizations of NO2GMOs.

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