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.

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