Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering calls for resumption of Bt eggplant research

Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering calls for resumption of Bt eggplant research

In a statement, the Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) expressed strong support for the continuation of research and development and field testing of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, following the Supreme Court order halting its field testing last December 2015. Under the newbiosafety guidelines of the Philippines signed by five government departments (Joint Department Circular No. 1, Series of 2016, titled Rules and Regulations for the Research and Development, Handling and Use, Transboundary Movement, Release into the Environment, and Management of Genetically-Modified Plant and Plant Products Derived from the Use of Modern Biotechnology), PAASE urged “all parties involved to take prompt and responsible actions…to implement the resumption and continuation of said research.”

Elaborating Bt eggplant and GM technology’s human, animal and environmental safety, and its potential contribution to food security in its 22-page statement, PAASE urged various stakeholders to mobilize Filipino S&T and partner with eggplant farmers “to build scientific and technological capacity best suited to their circumstances.” They also committed to “working with the Philippine government, universities and the public in providing expert advice and recommendations on the various facets of the development and use of Bt talong in the Philippines.”

PAASE is an international organization of scientists and engineers who have distinguished themselves in scholarly and research-related activities and who are of Philippine descent — based in the Philippines, the United States or elsewhere. The academy promotes the advancement of science, engineering and technology; encourages collaborative efforts among scientists and engineers; and supports national inclusive growth and development through innovation in science and technology. A full copy of their statement can be downloaded here.

For more information about biotech developments in the Philippines, visit the website of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center. (Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena and Sophia M. Mercado)


For more information, please contact:

SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center
College 4031, Laguna, PHILIPPINES
Telephone no.: (+63-49) 536 2290 ext 405/169/135
Fax no.: (+63-49) 536 4105

Fil-Am science group lauds restart of Bt eggplant testing

The Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) welcomed the prompt continuation of research and development and field-testing of Bt talong (eggplant) in the Philippines, following the government’s enactment of a joint circular on the use of modern biotechnology.

“We commit to working with the Philippine government, universities, and the public, if called for, in providing expert advice and recommendations on the various facets of the development and use of Bt talong in the Philippines,” said Joel Cuello of the University of Arizona.

PAASE is an international organization of scientists and engineers of Philippine descent—based in the Philippines, the United States or elsewhere—who have distinguished themselves in scholarly and research-related activities.

In March, after the Supreme Court issued an injunction in December 2015 against the continued development of Bt talong and temporarily banned new applications for genetically modified organisms, the Department of Agriculture (DA), along with the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Health (DOH); Science and Technology (DOST); and Interior and Local Government (DILG) crafted a joint department circular that provided guidelines for the propagation and sale of biotechnology seeds in the country.

With the signing of the JDC, PAASE called on Philippine government leaders, farmers, academics, scientists, engineers, the private sector, journalists, students and the general public to acknowledge that the development and field testing of Bt talong is an urgent imperative to provide an effective, safe and sustainable solution to the economically and environmentally ruinous problems currently facing Filipino eggplant farmers.

They also called on the Mobilize the Filipino science and technology community to launch a nationwide educational and extension program to disseminate accurate scientific facts and information on Bt talong, and to combat any misinformation and disinformation on the subject.

PAASE said they are ready to work with Filipino eggplant farmers to build scientific and technical capacity best suited to their circumstances to promote sustainable and cost-effective integrated cultivation management practices.

PAASE Eggplant, the leading vegetable crop in the country in terms of both volume and area of production, is a valuable source of income for Filipino farmers. Eggplant production in the Philippines covers approximately 22,000 hectares, yielding a volume of about 220,000 metric tons annually, valued at about P2.6 billion.

However, the emergence of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) as a major pest of eggplant in the country has been catastrophic to both farm productivity and farmers’ income, and has imperiled food security in vast areas heavily invested in the crop. Indeed, an estimated 51 to 73 percent of the crop is lost when no form of pest control is provided.

Such potential massive production losses prompt the liberal application of 60 to 80 pesticide sprays during a planting season, costing farmers about P28,000 per hectare for pesticides, representing 29 percent of total production costs.

Consequently, eggplant products become not only laced with pesticides, but their price also jumps from ordinarily about P45 per kilo to P70 per kilo—an unaffordable price to most urban low-income consumers.

Given the lack of effective pest-control approaches against FSB available to Filipino eggplant farmers, the development of an alternative technology in the form of Bt talong—devoid of the established risks to humans, farm animals and other non-target organisms—is seen as a promising long-term solution.

Growing Bt talong is expected to significantly increase agricultural productivity in areas severely affected by FSB, and is projected to raise farmers’ income by about P50,000 per hectare.

Natural insecticide
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil-dwelling bacterium that has been used to control insect pests since the 1920s. Its spores and crystalline insecticidal proteins are used in formulations marketed as organic pesticides under trade names such as DiPel, Thuricide, Costar, Bio-Trol and BioProtec to kill mosquito larvae and to control caterpillars of moths and butterflies, which destroy many crops and ornamental plants.

Bt spray has been used for over 50 years and organic farmers consider Bt innocuous. It occurs naturally in the gut of some caterpillars, on leaf surfaces and in aquatic environments and it has been found also in animal feces, insect-rich environments, flourmills and grain-storage facilities.

Numerous safety studies have been conducted on Bt spray formulations and Bt toxins produced in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) showing that Bt toxin is nontoxic to humans and non-target animals.

Animal toxicology studies confirmed these results since test animals fed with high concentrations of Bt formulations from GMOs, or even the GMO crops themselves, exhibited no adverse reactions nor showed abnormalities in their gut when examined under the microscope.

The results from these studies have enabled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization to conclude that consumption of GMOs that produce Bt toxins is safe and unlikely to pose a health hazard to humans and non-target animals owing to the specificity of the insecticidal activity of Bt toxin to specific arthropods.

Improved guidelines
Earlier, Agriculture Undersecretary Atty. Dennis Guerrero said that the overhauled GMO guidelines had been made stringent and transparent, saying that environment safety assessment procedures will be crosschecked by the five agencies before the local cultivation of GM crops.

The joint administrative order was based on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.

It was adopted in January 2000 and entered into force in September 2003.

“As the first country in the Asian region to allow the propagation and commercialization of GM crops in 2002, the GM guidelines will further strengthen biotechnology’s role in the country’s agriculture sector and address food security concerns in the immediate future while at the same time ensuring the environment and the health of people plants and animals are protected,” Guerrero said.

The government held several consultations following the order issued by the High Court which nullified all importations, applications, testing and commercialization of plants and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.

The SC earlier said DA order 08-2002 failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety under EO 514, which requires a more transparent, meaningful and participatory public consultation on the conduct of field trials beyond the posting and publication of notices, consultations with some residents and government officials, and submission of written assessment and no socio-economic consideration.

“The new rules have tightened environmental scrutiny before biosafety permits are issued, addressing one of the loopholes the Supreme Court cited when it voided the old rules, in place since 2002,” he added.

Under the new guidelines, there will be Biosafety Committees tasked to review applications for field-testing and cultivation.

The DOST-Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC) was mandated to evaluate applications for contained use and confined test of regulated articles, while the DA-Biosafety Committee (DA-BC) will evaluate applications for field trial, commercial propagation and transboundary movement of regulated articles in accordance with this Circular.

DA-BC will also evaluate the independent reports as well as socio-economic, ethical and cultural considerations.

Meanwhile, the DENR-Biosafety Committee (DENR-BC) shall lead in evaluating environmental risks and impacts of regulated articles for field trial, commercial propagation, and direct use of living modified organisms in accordance with this Circular.

DOH-Biosafety Committee (DOH-BC), on the other hand, shall lead in the evaluation of health impacts of regulated articles for field trial, commercial propagation, and direct use of living modified organisms in accordance with the circular.

“The DA is now tasked to broaden membership in the Scientific and Technical Review Panel to accommodate expertise in the evaluation of the potential risks of regulated articles to the environment and human health,” Guerrero said.

–Written by by James Konstantin Galvez, Manila Times.  See article link here.

Scientists back calls to revive crop biotechnology

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) has joined the growing calls for the resumption of development and field testing of genetically modified eggplant in the country to boost crop productivity.

Biotechnology is a revolutionary tool that is transforming the agricultural sector. Crops developed by genetic engineering can not only be used to enhance yields and nutritional quality but also to safeguard crops against disease.

Eggplant, the leading vegetable crop in the country in terms of both volume and area of production, is a valuable source of income for Filipino farmers.

Eggplant production in the Philippines covers approximately 22,000 hectares, yielding a volume of about 220,000 metric tons annually, valued at about PhP 2.6 billion.

The emergence of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) as a major pest of eggplant in the country has been catastrophic to both farm productivity and farmers’ income, and has imperiled food security in vast areas heavily invested in the crop.

An estimated 51 to 73 percent of the crop is lost when no form of pest control is provided.

Such potential massive production losses prompt the liberal application of 60 to 80 pesticide sprays during a planting season, costing farmers about P28,000 per hectare on pesticides, representing 29 percent of total production costs.

Consequently, eggplant products become not only laced with pesticides, but their price also jumps from ordinarily about P45 to P70 per kilo – an unaffordable price to most urban low-income consumers.

Given the lack of effective pest-control approaches against FSB available to Filipino eggplant farmers, the development of an alternative technology in the form of Bt talong – devoid of the established risks to humans, farm animals and other non-target organisms that chemical pesticides typically pose – becomes both a desirable and an urgent imperative.

PAASE, an international organization of scientists and engineers who have distinguished themselves research-related activities and who are of Philippine descent – based in the Philippines, US or elsewhere, said the use of biotechnology would significantly increase agricultural productivity in areas severely affected by FSB, and i raise farmers’ income by about P50,000 per hectare.

The development of Bt talong cultivars directly supports the country’s aspiration for inclusive growth and poverty reduction, said PAASE, which promotes the advance cement of science, engineering and technology.

“Results from numerous biosafety and toxicological studies have allowed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to conclude that the consumption of genetically modified (GM) farm products which produce Bt toxins is safe and unlikely to pose health hazards to humans and non-target animals owing to the specificity of the insecticidal activity of Bt toxin to specific arthropods,” PAASE noted.

In Asia, Bangladesh has already approved the commercial planting of Bt talong, and its government has been providing seeds to farmers on a royalty-free basis since 2013. In India,

The Philippines, on the other hand, was the first country in Asia to approve the commercial cultivation of GMO corn for food and animal feed in 2002.

Today, around 70 percent of the corn planted in the Philippines is GMO. The Philippines has also been importing GMO crops, particularly soybeans and cotton, for more than a decade.

“Given, however, that extensive research studies have provided scientific evidence for the relative safety of Bt-derived insecticidal proteins in humans and animals – and considering the projected significant positive impact of Bt talong on the Philippines’ food security and farmers’ incomes – the resumption and continuation of the research and development and field-testing of Bt talong in the Philippines with a view to generating the necessary empirical data to evaluate its environmental biosafety specifically in the Philippines is fully justified and should be urgently prioritized,” PAASE said.

“Analysis of the relevant technology-transfer arrangements, the patent and plant-variety protection on Bt talong reveals that Filipino farmers would be able to grow Bt talong cultivars without royalty costs and, thus, would not become economically subservient to any particular entity that would otherwise be able to control the Bt talong market. From an intellectual-property standpoint, Filipino farmers are well-positioned to reap the economic benefits of cultivating the insect-resistant Bt talong cultivar,” it added.

–Published in The Philippine Star.  See article link here.

Pinoy, foreign scientists re-tackle BT eggplant, biotech fears

You’ve heard the term biotechnology before. Defined as “any technique that uses whole or part of a living thing to make new products, improve or develop plants, animals and other organisms for specific use,” biotechnology has many applications. Biotechnology is responsible for life-saving vaccines and fertilizers.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), “Traditional biotechnology includes fermentation to produce common products such as vinegar, soy sauce and wine.”

ISAAA-SEARCA celebration
On April 29, ISAAA, together with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the global commercialization of biotech crops at a media conference in Muntinlupa City. Filipino and Bangladeshi scientists discussed advances made in the field of biotechnology in 2015. In particular, the conference highlighted the progress and acceptance of genetically modified eggplant, or Bt Brinjal, in Bangladesh.

ISAAA is “a not-for-profit international organization that shares the benefits of crop biotechnology to various stakeholders, particularly resource-poor farmers in developing countries, through knowledge sharing initiatives and the transfer and delivery of proprietary biotechnology applications.”

SEARCA is “a non-profit organization established by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) in 1966. As SEAMEO’s center of excellence in agriculture, SEARCA is mandated ‘to provide to the participating countries high quality graduate study in agriculture; promote, undertake, and coordinate research programs related to the needs and problems of the Southeast Asian region; and disseminate the findings of agricultural research and experimentation.’”

Lamenting the eggplant
In the welcome remarks, Dr. Gil Saguiguit, Jr., Director of SEARCA, commented that biotechnology is frequently bombarded by claims that it is detrimental to health. Such claims led to the Supreme Court decision to stop field tests on Bt eggplant in 2015.

In his message, Dr. Eufemio Rasco of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) said that though the Philippines was the first to develop Bt eggplant, Filipinos may never benefit from it. He compared the Philippine case to Bangladesh. “After seven years of field and greenhouse trials in various locations, Bangladesh became the first country in the world to approve the commercial planting of Bt brinjal.” Bt Brinjal was approved for release on October 30, 2013.

Rasco lamented, “The Bangladeshi people trusted their scientists, we did not (trust ours). Let us not allow temporary setbacks to dampen our commitment to help farmers and consumers.” He hoped that the concerns of farmers, and the issue of food security, would not be overlooked in the elections, or by the incoming government officials. The benefits of biotech will be enjoyed by generations to come, he prophesied.

The case of Bangladesh
Two Bangladeshi scientists spoke at the conference to share their experience with Bt Brinjal.

Dr. Gour Pada Das is the Country Coordinator of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership in Bangladesh. Das shared an analysis of published reports about Bt Brinjal, in the hopes of determining how media perceived the new crop. He explained that the media was a powerful ally in promoting the acceptance of Bt Brinjal, and he shared their efforts in helping media practitioners understand the science.

Dr. ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan is the Chief Scientific Officer and Head of the On-Farm Research Division at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). He shared that two important stakeholders were satisfied with Bt Brinjal: farmers and housewives. Farmers were interested to grow the four varieties that were approved for release, and they were rewarded with lower production cost, higher yield, and higher gross margins. Housewives were happy to have healthy fruit.

Public fears
The open forum was moderated by Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril, Program Director of Biotechnology Program Office at the Department of Agriculture. One question that arose was that of labeling. Detractors insist that biotech crops should be labeled as GMOs, and all products with ingredients that use biotech crops be appropriately labeled as well. But Das and Khan explained that Bangladeshi law makes no such requirement. Bt Brinjal, for example, is simply labeled “insect-free.”

Dr. Randy A. Hautea, Global Coordinator and Director of ISAAA’s Southeast Asia Center, explained that locally, biotech crops are sold in markets as simply “pesticide-free” or “insecticide-free.” He reasoned that labels should describe the product and its traits, providing information that matters to consumers. He further explained that almost all local tofu or “tokwa” is made from imported GM soybean. “What is the value of labeling it GM tokwa?”

Consequences of the Supreme Court ruling
Inevitably, Hautea was asked to comment on the Supreme Court ruling to stop field tests on Bt eggplant. He explained that ultimately, the case has not been decided, and that the court has entertained all motions for reconsideration.

As a representative from the DA, Mamaril quelled fears that other biotech crops would be affected by the Supreme Court ruling. He explained that previous approvals of other biotech crops were in no danger of being repealed, and farmers could continue planting them if they wished.

In closing, Hautea hoped the Philippines would learn from the experience of Bangladesh, identifying parallels in between the two countries’ developments in various fields of science and technology as well. He hoped that “we will share the same political will their government exhibited in the case of Bt Brinjal, so that we also put the weight of government behind a stronger push for science and technology in this country.”

With a new government in place, Filipino scientists can only hope for the best. — TJD, GMA News

–Written by Regina Laug-Rosero, GMA News Online.  See article link here.