Strengthening support for biotechnology in PHL

In its September 15 issue, the BusinessMirror cited diocesan priest Fr. Emmanuel Alparce, a member of the Department of Agriculture Biotech Program Technical Committee on Information, Education and Communication, who said that lawmakers should be open-minded about the biotechnological developments being conducted in the country that seek to curb poverty and improve the lives of Filipinos.

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Davao’s vegetable council backs commercial planting of Bt eggplant in the Philippines

Davao’s vegetable council backs commercial planting of Bt eggplant in the Philippines

The Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao (Vicsmin) in the Philippines has expressed its full support for the commercial planting of Bt eggplant in the country. This came after Vicsmin officers and members signed a one-page manifesto of support during the roundtable discussion on Bt Eggplant held on September 4, 2017 in Davao City. Vicsmin, a non-profit organization that advocates policies beneficial to the vegetable industry in the region, has 40 active member institutions and 20 individual farmers.

After a thorough discussion with Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, Bt eggplant study leader from the University of the Philippines Los Baños on the science, safety, and the potential actual benefits of modern biotechnology, Vicsmin in their one-page manifesto says: “We realize that Bt eggplant, which contains the gene similar to the insect-resistant Bt corn, can bring benefits to our communities such as higher yield and income, reduce chemical use, and improve environmental health. We believe that the Bt eggplant is a healthier and safer alternative solution against the relentless insect pest, the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB).”

Vicsmin President Gienovivo A. Cajes said, “If Bangladesh farmers are now planting Bt eggplant why can’t we plant it here?”

Biotech crops to be in more local farms

THROUGH a Joint Department Circular (JDC) empowering development of biotech crops in the country, biotech rice, papaya, cotton, and eggplant are expected to be fully implemented in local farms after most of the crops were already through with the field trial stages.

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Challenges in commercializing biotech crops tackled in seminar

Challenges in commercializing biotech crops tackled in seminar

Socio-economic considerations, multiple agency review, labeling, and legal court challenges are the major obstacles in getting biotech crops to farmers, according to Senior Legal Consultant of the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) Atty. Gregory Jaffe, who presented in the Agriculture and Development Seminar Series (ADSS) of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on July 24, 2017 in his talk titled “GM Crops to Farmers: Curves in the Roads.” An example cited was the court case filed against Bt eggplant in the Philippines which is more of a procedural issue than a technical one. According to Atty. Jaffe, the key is transparent and predictable biosafety regulatory procedures that anticipate and address the said issues before a product is approved for release.

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Pangasinan stakeholders learn about Bt brinjal, affirm support for Bt talong

Pangasinan stakeholders learn about Bt brinjal, affirm support for Bt talong

Farmers, local government constituents, and other key stakeholders in the province of Pangasinan, Philippines expressed their backing for, and willingness to adopt Bt talong(eggplant) by signing a declaration of support for its commercialization during a seminar with key people involved in the development and commercialization of Bangladesh’s Bt brinjal last July 27, 2017 at Pangasinan State University (PSU)-Sta. Maria Campus.

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Biotech law needed to support BT eggplant, gene-silenced potato

An academic think tank said a stronger policy is needed to authorize planting and release of biotechnology crops like the Bt eggplant and “gene-silenced” non-browning potato, which could be the key to long term food security amid climate threats and the Philippines’ growing population.

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) said it supports the passage of a biotechnology law, which is more forcible than a memorandum circular or administrative order (AO).

“SEARCA has BIC (Biotechnology Information Center) which is its one-stop shop for biotechnology advocacy. We are in a position to support it (biotechnology law). We will capitalize on SEARCA’s strength in policy research to address the problem,” said SEARCA Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. in a biotechnology forum.

Saguiguit cited SEARCA’s crucial role in policies that affect food production and the environment.

SEARCA, together with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), hosts BIC at its headquarters in Los Banos, Laguna.

It supports BIC as part of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization’s focus to strengthen graduate agriculture education and related agricultural research carried out by academic experts.

-Published in FoodEvolution.  See original article link here.

GM crops planted in 185M ha worldwide

 

Biotechnology experts have reported increased production in 2016 in a rebound from stymied production the previous year due to regulatory barriers and persistent resistance from environmentalists.

But they insisted that progress in production—both in yield per area and total farm area planted—has spared forest lands from being invaded for farm production and has sharply cut down chemical use in farms, a potential that they hope would draw sharp interest from producers and governments.

Not only was 2016 noted for a rebound in biotechnology crop production, it also marked a spike in global production of genetically modified (GM) crops in the last two decades, and got more countries to adapt it, according to Dr. Paul S. Teng, chairman of the board of trustees of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (Isaaa).

Last year Isaaa has noted that biotech crops were planted in 185.1 million hectares in 26 countries, which involved 18 million farmers.

“This is the fastest adapted crop technology in recent times,” the group said, citing the dominance of the developing world in the number of countries planting the GM crops.

Three developing nations—Brazil, Argentina and India—landed in the top five, with the US leading the list with its 72.9 million hectares, and Canada on the fourth spot.

The potential for wider global adaption of biotechnology would largely hinge on governments confronting the increasing urgency to find food for their people as lands remain constant and population kept multiplying.

To increase production yield per acre or per hectare of area would be likely a current arena, “even if you start with the hybrid variety”, Teng said.

Philippines top biotech grower in SEA

In the Philippines, Teng said the area planted to GM corn, for instance, has increased 16 percent to 812,000 hectares “as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or GM crops in Southeast Asia”.

The Philippines ranked 12th as global producer of the GM corn today after it was also the first country in Southeast Asia to plant the crop in 2003, he added. The Philippine government approved its commercial production a year earlier.

The increase in area planted to corn was equivalent to 110,000 hectares, the Isaaa said.

GM corn is the leading GM crop in the country that is already being produced commercially. Three other crops are in their research and development stages. These are the stem borer-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant, ringspot virus-resistant and delayed ripening papaya and the fortified beta-carotene golden rice.

The progression in commercial production of GM corn was ascribed to “favorable weather conditions and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks”.

The increase is also reflected in the adaption by more farmers “mainly because of better income compared to non-GM corn,” Teng added. The increase though, was slight, at 65 percent for some 406,000 farmers.

What was significant in this number of farmers, he said, was that they average 2 hectares, a size common among small “resource-poor” Filipino farmers.

The Isaaa 2016 report, which was launched in Beijing, China, early this month, said Filipino farmers earned $642 million in the period 2003 to 2015. For 2015 alone, the GM-corn planters earned $82 million. The increase in hectarage and production was accounted by the 13 approvals granted by local governments for the cultivation of GM corn.

Challenge for poor regions

Although the developing world accounts for the big number of countries adapting biotechnology, the challenge was to increase its planting to, and yield per area, on crops that they heavily import from the developed economies.

Asia, for instance, which appears consistently green in any color-coded food production map, imports heavily on soybean from countries with minimal agriculture area but are known for high yields per farm area.

The potential to catch up and cut down on imports, is emerging for the developing, or poor, regions of the world. As of 2016 there were 19 countries in the poor region adapting biotechnology, although many of them raise GM crops for food, feeds and processing, unlike Chile and Costa Rica in South America that were growing modified crops already for export.

While countries were also adapting hybrid varieties of their food crops, Teng said this may provide the step closer to adapting biotechnology, which he said “should not be clouded in fear over their effects on the environment and human health”.

Isaaa noted that countries using biotechnology for farm production were adapting to the demands of their other food sectors, such as livestock. Brazil, it said, currently the largest GM crop-producing country among developing economies, may still raise its GM-maize production, as it expects its pork- and livestock-industry expands to meet the consuming market.

The regulatory barriers put up against GM crops has pulled back production through years, and Isaaa said there had been successes in some countries, including the Philippines, which has formed a four-Cabinet level interagency regulatory body.

Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril, acting director of the Bureau of Plant Industry, said that while this interagency body may help bring into one body the diverse issues raised against biotechnology crops, “their diverse concerns, too, could be confusing and disconnected”.

He suggested that in the case of the Philippines, “government agencies, including Congress, should establish regulations now to avoid getting preempted by the entry of GM crops, especially during the Christmas season”.

“Government should be prepared this early to handle issues like entry of GM crops,” he said.

Game changer

While the current production of GM crops is described as stymied due to regulatory barriers and ineffective responses to environment and health issues, the Isaaa said biotechnology adaption in the food production has already contributed a lot to biodiversity, better environment and livelihood to rural families.

It said the increase in crop yield per specific area compared to hybrid and traditional crop varieties earned for small farmers $167.8 billion between 1996 and 2015.

Teng said biotechnology has been contributing to the search by governments to find much higher yields per hectare and, by consequence, avoid the opening up of forest lands for farm cultivation.

In the period 2006 to 2016, the world saved 174 million hectares of forest lands from ploughing and cultivation because of the increased yield per acre or hectare of existing farm lands.

Teng added the GM crops were being developed to address specific diseases of commonly used crops, vegetables and fruits that have reduced the yields of these food items. These include the resistance of eggplants to stem borers, potatoes and apples to browning and papaya to ringspot virus.

In turn, he said, farmers have discarded expensive pesticides and saved a lot of farm income.

But the bigger beneficiary here is the environment, Teng said. The Isaaa report reveals a decline by 19 percent in the use of insecticides and herbicides, equivalent to 620 million kilograms of active ingredients of these chemicals.

And much more, he added, as fewer incidents of felled forest trees and applications of fossil fuels in chemical inputs helped the world prevent destructive carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 26.7 billion kilograms.

“It is equivalent to taking 11.9 million cars of the road for one year,” the Isaa added.

The more important also, Teng said, citing the Isaaa report, the better production yield and less use of chemical inputs have helped 18 million small farmers and their families.

“Its impact would cover an estimated 65 million people living in the poorest regions,” he said.

The Isaaa added that innovations still coming in would “revolutionize the development of new biotech crops and traits” and described this trend the “game changer” in the third decade of planting and commercialization of the GM crops.

-Written by Manuel Cayon in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Image Credits: Lyn Resurreccion

Biotech crops offer economic benefits

The economic benefits of planting biotech crops can never be underscored enough. According to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Filipino farmers who planted Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn from 2003 to 2015 earned an estimated $642 million. For 2015 alone, ISAAA said farm income reached around $82 million. At the average exchange rate of P45.50 to the greenback, corn farmers netted P3.73 billion in 2015.
 

According to ISAAA, the Philippines ranks 12th in biotech crop commercialization for 2016, when 812,000 hectares of biotech maize have been planted. This is 16 percent higher than the 702,000 hectares planted with Bt corn in 2015. Data from the ISAAA also showed that adoption rates also increased last year to 65 percent, from 63 percent in 2015. The number of small farmers growing on average 2 hectares of Bt corn in the Philippines last year was estimated at 406,000, according to ISAAA.

Bt corn was the first genetically modified crop to be commercialized in the Philippines since 2002, when the government rolled out a regulatory framework that is considered a model in Southeast Asia. “The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia and has a model for science-based and thorough regulatory policy in the region,” the ISAAA said in its report. Despite this, however, only one crop—Bt corn—has been commercialized.

There are a number of biotech crops that are currently in the pipeline: Golden Rice, Bt cotton, biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus, and the controversial fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant. The prospects of commercializing Bt eggplant, or Bt talong, dimmed when the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in December 2015 to stop its field testing. The SC also halted the processing of applications for contained use, field testing, propagation, commercialization and importation of GM products when it nullified Administrative Order 8 issued by the Department of Agriculture in 2002.

While the SC reversed its decision in August 2016, proponents of Bt talong have yet to push through with the field testing of the crop. Other crops in the pipeline, such as the Golden Rice, have yet to reach the field testing stage. But because it is the country’s staple, Golden Rice’s commercialization will not be smooth sailing. This, despite the absence of definitive proof that GM crops are harmful to human health and the existence of a regulatory framework that is regarded as worth emulating in other parts of the region.

Biotech crops, such as Bt corn, allow farmers to save on production cost because they will no longer have to extensively use pesticides to kill the corn borer insect. For now, only corn farmers in the Philippines are reaping the benefits offered by biotech crops. Hastening the commercialization of other biotech crops would allow more Filipino farmers to enjoy higher incomes and help them get out of poverty.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article linke here.

 

ISAAA: Surplus, exports possible with Bt corn

The Philippines has the potential to become the top exporter of corn in Asean, especially if more Filipino farmers would plant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn to expand their output, according to international experts.
 

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri Biotech Applications (ISAAA) told the BusinessMirror that planting more Bt corn would allow the Philippines to have a corn surplus, which it could export to neighboring Asian countries.

“Many Asian countries are short of corn and the Philippines could supply their requirement,” Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA board of trustees chairman, said on the sidelines of a news briefing on the global status of genetically modified (GM) crops in 2016, held recently in Alabang.

“Malaysia imports corn, Indonesia imports corn, so these countries would look for possible sources. Only the Philippines plants Bt corn in this region and it has a good history of growing corn, so I think it could become an exporter,” Teng added.

He also noted that the cost of shipping from the Philippines is much lower.

Based on the report of the ISAAA, titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2016”, the total hectarage planted with Bt corn in the Philippines reached 812,000 hectares, making the country the 12th-biggest producer of GM crops in the world. The figure was 16 percent higher than the 702,000 hectares recorded in 2015.

“The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks,” ISAAA said.

ISAAA also reported that the adoption rate of Bt corn by Filipino farmers increased to 65 percent in 2016, from 63 percent in 2014. This means that out of the total 1.248 million hectares planted with corn, 812,000 hectares were of Bt seed varieties.

Out of the planted hectarage, 679 hectares were planted with stack traits corn, while the remaining 133,000 hectares were planted with single trait corn.

“In 2003 the area for Bt corn did not even reach 50,000 hectares, and now we are talking about 800,000 hectares. We have yet to receive reports that Bt maize has done harm or caused ailment,” Bureau of Plant Industry OIC Director Dr. Vivencio R. Mamaril said.

“The mere fact that planting area grew to 800,000 hectares is proof that it is a successful crop and farmers believed in it,” Mamaril added.

The ISAAA report noted that Filipino farmers earned an estimated $642 million from planting GM corn in 2003 to 2015. In 2015 alone, farmers recorded earnings of $82 million.

The number of small resource-poor farmers, growing on average 2 hectares of biotech maize in the Philippines in 2016, was estimated at 406,000, up from 350,000 in 2015. Biotech maize is the only GM crop commercialized in the Philippines.

Since the approval of Bt maize in 2003, a total of 6.03 million hectares have been planted with the GM crop, according to the estimates of ISAAA.

The Philippines is currently in the process of developing other biotech crops, including the Bt eggplant, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice.

Written by Jasper Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

Philippine Biotech Crop Area Rebounds in 2016

PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

searcabic_btcornharvestISAAA states that in 2016, 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech/GM corn was planted in the Philippines in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015 which is equivalent to 110,000 hectares. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country today.

Adoption rates of biotech/GM corn also increased from 63% in 2015 to 65% in 2016, when the number of small, resource-poor farmers, growing on average, 2 hectares of biotech/GM corn in the Philippines was estimated to be over 406,000. According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech/GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached US$642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech/GM crop on farm income was estimated at US$82 million.

ISAAA’s 2016 report which was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China also states that there are only 13 biotech/GM corn events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the last approval given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (2 events), rapeseed (2), cotton (8), corn (52), potato (8), rice (1), soybean (14), and sugar beet (1).

Current research and development efforts on biotech/GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistance, also being developed by IPB-UPLB; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA, formerly the Cotton Development Authority); and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of biotech/GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public, such that a Joint Department Circular (JDC) was quickly put together in record time of three months in 2016 after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8) which served as the government policy for biotech/GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.

Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.

biotechcornfarmerMore than 18 million small farmers and their families have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years. ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications and environmental impact by 19% in 1996-2015, and 18.4% in 2015 alone. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.

Bangladesh to release 3 more Bt brinjal varieties

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) will release three more varieties of the country’s first genetically modified (GM) crop–Bt Brinjal, which is infused with a pest-resistant gene.

BARI Director General Dr Abul Kalam Azad made the announcement at a workshop on “Bt Eggplant Research and Development,” at a hotel in Dhaka today.

“Bt technology is not a panacea. It works only against shoot and fruit borer. For other diseases, we must manage using other mechanisms,” he added.

Addressing the occasion, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said that government is ready to accept any advanced technology keeping in mind the safety of the people.

Currently, around 6,000 farmers in 36 districts are cultivating four Bt Brinjal verities— BARI Bt (Uttara), BARI Bt (Kajla), BARI Bt (Nayontar) and ISD006 Bt BARI.

Farmers from Rajshahi, Rangpur, Pabna and Gazipur started cultivating the Bt Brinjal for the first time in 2014. With the journey of cultivating Bt Brinjal, Bangladesh has joined a group of 29 countries that grow GM crops.

BARI Chief Scientific Officer ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan gave a presentation on “Performance of Bt Brinjal varieties at Farmers Field” and Prof Anthony M Shelton, director of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Project from Cornell University, also spoke at the function.

-Published in The Daily Star.  See original article link here.

PPPs: Planting the seeds of prosperity for Bangladeshi farmers

 
Local consumer buying eggplants at a market in Mohishaban, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

The eggplant, known in Asia as brinjal, is one of the most inexpensive and popular vegetable crops grown in Bangladesh, ranked only below the potato and onion in terms of total production. It is a major source of income for around 8 million smallholder farmers, and a mainstay in the diet of the nation’s 160 million people. However, the crop is constantly under threat from the fruit and shoot borer — a moth species whose larvae burrow into the eggplant, destroying it from within. If not controlled, the pest can damage up to 100 percent of a field of eggplants and threaten the smallholder farms that depend on it.

On his farm in northern Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman Sheikh told us that he has been growing brinjal for 10 years. While it’s not a difficult crop to grow, he said the impact of the fruit and shoot borer can be disastrous for eggplant farmers.

“Two years ago, 50 percent of my crop was lost to the borer,” he recounted. “I lost a lot of money and seriously considered giving up the crop altogether.”


Anisur Rahman Sheikh in his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Given the social and nutritional importance of the eggplant, public and private sector scientists and farmers have pooled their expertise to find both economically sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to tackle the pest.

Rahman Sheikh recently planted biotech eggplant for the first time. The biotech variety (Bt eggplant) repels or kills the fruit and shoot borer, and Rahman Sheikh is confident that it will make a difference for him and his family.

“Already, the plants look stronger and healthier,” he said. “I won’t know until the harvest, but the plants look good. I am expecting a good harvest with no losses.”

In fact, the Bt eggplant has shown close to 100 percent effectiveness in controlling pests. Not only have farmers’ incomes risen through increased yields, but the crop requires far fewer insecticide applications to reduce pests that threaten it.


Anisur Rahman Sheikh ploughing his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Rahman Sheikh explained that a good harvest will have a significant impact on his life.

“You see, my house is still not complete,” he said. “So if I get more crops, I get more profit and I can repair my house and I can contribute to my kids’ education, their health, and their safety.”

We visited plant scientist Hasan Tanbir from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the country’s public research body that helped bring the Bt eggplant to Bangladesh. BARI has been distributing saplings to farmers, and providing training on good stewardship and best practices. In a country where agriculture is so important to the economy, he said the adoption of new technology is vital.


Scientific Officer Hasan Tanbir at the On-Farm research Institute of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Bogra, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

“Over 90 percent of Bangladeshi people work in agriculture, and food security is very important to our country,” said Tanbir. “Farmers were becoming afraid to grow brinjal. But with the Bt gene inserted to fight the borer, farmers can be successful with an important crop. It is essential for these farmers.”

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The insect-resistant Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was facilitated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Cornell University in very close collaboration with BARI. The project’s goal is to commercialize biotech crops to complement conventional agricultural approaches to help alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and boost food and nutrition security. The Bt eggplant was commercialized in Bangladesh in 2013.

Initially developed in the private sector, the Cry1-Ac protein produced in the Bt eggplant — and which repels the borer — is similar in structure to that found in nature, and is used commercially in the form of Bt-based biopesticides, often used by organic growers. Through a creative partnership and licensing agreement between private and public actors, the Bt eggplant is available to farmers who can most benefit, with no additional technology fees or royalties payable. In addition, farmers will not only be permitted, but actively encouraged, to save their seeds.

Just like the biotech sorghum plant that can tackle blindness, the Bt eggplant is another compelling example of how public and private sector expertise can pull together to meet huge global challenges such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. By harnessing our collective strengths, including research and development, manpower, resources and facilities, huge progress can be made.

-Written by Deb Carstoiu in devex,com.  See original article link here.

FEATURE BLOG: The trial of Bt talong field trials

FEATURE BLOG: The trial of Bt talong field trials

The Philippine government issued a policy statement in July 2001 promoting the judicious use of modern biotechnology and its products for food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.  In April 2002, rules and regulations on the importation and release into the environment of biotech plants and products were issued.  Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DA AO8), series of 2002 served as the regulatory guidelines in assessing health and environmental safety of biotech crops.

bt corn

Soon after the approval of the government on the planting of the first biotech crop in December 2002, the agricultural landscape in the Philippines changed significantly, particularly in the corn sector.  From the initial plantings in 2003 of biotech corn in about 20,000 hectares, commercial plantings now cover an area of about 800 thousand hectares, planted by more than 350 thousand farmers. Because of the fast and wide adoption of biotech corn, the country has achieved sufficiency in the supply of yellow corn starting in 2012.

Early traits of biotech corn provide solution to infestation of Asiatic corn borer and problem in maintaining crop stand with the application of herbicides.  Biotech corn available now in the market has the combination of both traits. Biotech corn products in the pipeline have traits that can address other pests and diseases, improving nutritional value, and can withstand harsh climate conditions such as drought.

Bt talong research and development

bt eggplantWith the success in the adoption of biotech corn in the country, the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) spearheaded the development of a biotech eggplant that provides resistance to its chronic pest, the fruit and shoot borer.  Eggplant production provides an important source of cash income for small and resource-poor farmers in the country, and accounts for more than 30% of the volume of vegetable production.

DSC02820bThe eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) is a lepidopterous insect whose larva consumes the inner part of the eggplant fruit.  Damage caused by the EFSB normally results to nearly 80% of yield loss especially during high incidence of infestation.  The pest’s gut, similar to that of the corn borer, is affected by the toxin produced by the cry1a gene. Hence, similar to the first commercialized biotech corn, Bt talong use the gene from the soil borne bacteria Bacillus thuringensis to control EFSB.

Research started in 2003 in the laboratory and contained experiment was from 2007 to 2009 under the supervision of the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines (NCBP).  Field trials in Laguna, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, and North Cotabato were conducted from 2010 to 2012.  Bt talong varieties developed by IPB-UPLB contained a transformation event developed by Mahyco in India and introgressed into local open-pollinated varieties through backcrossing.  The biotech eggplant is the first public-sector initiated research and the first biotech food crop developed in the Philippines.

As with other biotech crops developed in the Philippines and elsewhere, Bt talong followed a rigorous regulatory guidelines and review throughout its research and development process. Research activities on Bt talong followed the strict regulatory requirements stipulated in the Philippine Biosafety Guidelines and the DA AO8 designed to minimize and manage the risks to both human health and to the environment of biotech products produced through modern biotechnology.

Bt talong court trial

The development of Bt talong has never been without any challenges.  For instance, field trial at UP Mindanao in Davao City had to be prematurely terminated in December 2010 because of the anti-biotech stance of the city government and its officials.  At the height of the field trial being conducted at the experimental farm of UPLB, members of Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) vandalized and uprooted eggplants in February 2011.

upminIn April 2012, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka at Syentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), and other personalities filed a writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus in the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the field trials of Bt talong.  The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law that provides for the protection of one’s rights to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”. Petitioners argued that the field trials of Bt talong violated the constitutional rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology pointing out the inherent and potential risks on human and animal health and the environment through “field trial contamination”.

Respondents to the case were Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), UP Los Baños Foundation, Inc. (UPLBFI) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan on May 2, 2012 directing the respondents to answer the petition of the anti-biotech entities.  The case was subsequently remanded by the SC to the Court of Appeals (CA) on July 10, 2012 for hearings, reception of evidence, and rendition of judgment.  On October 12, 2012, the appellate court issued a resolution acknowledging the legal standing of the petitioners, non-mootness of the case, and presence of justiciable controversies in relation to non-compliance with environmental and local government laws.  Petitioners maintained that the conduct of Bt talong field trials should be covered by the environmental impact statement (EIS) system and that there were no genuine public consultations conducted in communities within the trial sites prior to the approval of the field trials.

Respondents maintained that since the field trials had already been terminated, petition for writ of kalikasan should be dismissed for being moot and academic.  Moreover, Bt talong field trials do not cause environmental damage and do not prejudice the life, health and property of individuals.

In a span of nearly seven months, hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved were conducted, with both local and foreign experts presenting their arguments and evidence on the case at bar.  The CA adopted the “hot-tub” method in hearing the testimonies and arguments of expert witnesses from both parties.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 17, 2013, the appellate court ruled that “the field trials of genetically modified organisms Bt talong could not be declared as safe to human health and to our ecology with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology”.  The court maintained that there is still no full scientific certainty on the effects of the Bt talong to the environment and to the health of the people.  The CA further stressed that the “overall safety guarantee of Bt talong remains unknown”.  This is where the premise of precautionary principle was applied.

The court also claimed that the existing biosafety regulations issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and health of the people.  The appellate court ordered to permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials and protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment in accordance with the judgment.

Greenpeace and Masipag were quick to commend the decision of the CA and claimed the ruling as “victory to the Filipino people”.  However, farmers felt otherwise.  In a series of public dialogues conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) on Bt talong participated in by key agriculture stakeholders from Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon provinces, farmers lamented the undue ruling against Bt talong field trials as a major setback to adopting a much needed technology that is economically beneficial and safe to their health and the environment.  Farmers even signed a manifesto supporting commercial use of biotech crops in the country and asked for the early release of the Bt talong in the market.

A consolidated petition was lodged to the SC to seek reversal of the May 17, 2013 decision and the September 20, 2013 resolution of the appellate court denying the motions for reconsideration filed by Bt talong proponents.  On December 8, 2015, after the review of the petitions and submissions, the SC en banc upheld the decision of the appellate court and further modified the CA ruling. The DA AO8 was nullified which temporarily halted the application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with law.

Members of the scientific community, including student organizations and professional groups whose memberships are composed of well-known scientists such as the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), criticized the High Court’s ruling which apparently relied on discredited scientific research and literatures and improperly applied the precautionary principle to support its judgment.  Other stakeholders lamented on the possible negative repercussions of the SC decision on modern biotechnology and scientific advancement in the country.  Some farmer groups had urged the SC to junk the writ of kalikasan against Bt talong and the temporary ban on the commercial use, propagation and importation of other biotech plant products.

In his concurring opinion to the SC ruling, Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen opined that the petition for the writ of kalikasan should have been dismissed and considered moot and academic by the appellate court considering the expiration of the validity of the biosafety permits for the field trials and the actual termination of all the field trials.  Further, Justice Leonen noted “grave abuse of discretion which amounts to excess of jurisdiction” in relation to the CA ruling.

Despite the negative decision of the SC, some positive outcomes were realized with the court’s ruling.  The SC ruling heightened public awareness and interest on modern biotechnology and biotech plant products.  The SC decision had become the topic of discussion for weeks in both mainstream and social media and public dialogues.  A collective voice of scientists defended the science behind the Bt technology and the safety and benefits of biotech crops.  The science community ventilated concerns on the consequences of the SC decision on the advancement of science and technology in the country.  In a demonstration of cooperation and mutual interest, five government agencies worked together to draft and finalize a new directive that would later become the regulatory framework for safety decisions on biotech plant products that is more transparent, participatory, comprehensive, and with strict adherence to high standards of risk assessment.

Supreme Court reversed previous ruling

Undeterred by the decision of the SC, motions for reconsideration were filed by the Bt talong proponents.  An unexpected turn of events occurred on July 26, 2016 when the SC en banc unanimous reversed its previous ruling.  The SC ruled in favor of the Bt talong proponents affirming mootness of the case.  The SC decision further stated that since no commercial propagation of Bt talong took place and research activities never went beyond the field trial phase, “any future threat to the public to a healthful and balanced ecology is more imagined than real.”

The court further noted that it should not have invalidated DA AO8 as it was only “collaterally challenged” and the anti-Bt talong petitioners were merely asking for amendments to the administrative order. The court declared DA AO8 null and void in its previous decision for failure to comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).  Three main issues raised by the court in the nullification of DA AO8 were the lack of meaningful public participation on biosafety decisions, non-implementation of the EIS system, and lack of standards for risk assessment.

New regulatory guidelines

The SC ruling in December 2015 required the issuance of new regulatory guidelines for safety assessment of biotech plant products.  Following the order of the SC, the NCBP initiated the drafting, public consultations, and finalization of the Joint Department Circular No. 1 (JDC), series of 2016.   The new regulatory framework became effective on April 15, 2016 replacing the voided DA AO8.  Under the JDC, five relevant government agencies, namely Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) participate in the biosafety decision-making process involving the research, development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of biotech plant and plant products.  The JDC provides a more rigorous scrutiny of biotech plant products with the inclusion in the safety assessment of environmental impacts, health impacts, and involvement and meaningful participation of the general public and communities in the decision-making process.

The next step

With the field trials of Bt talong already completed, confirming the efficacy of the technology against the fruit and shoot borer and its safety towards beneficial and non-target insects, and with the unanimous ruling of the SC reversing its earlier decision against field tests, immediate commercial release should be considered by its developer.  Farmers are set to gain from the adoption of Bt talong with significant reduction in yield loss, lesser use of pesticides, and increased income.  Consumers are expected to benefit from pesticide-free eggplants that will be made available in the market.

About the Author:

Panfilo G. de Guzman is an Associate Scientist of the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

‘Bt talong’ has no adverse impacts on nontarget insects, research shows

GENETICALLY modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong (eggplant) has no negative impacts on the biological diversity of nontarget organisms, the first-ever field-level study of the effects of insect-resistant Bt eggplants on nontarget arthropod species showed.

The study was carried out in the Philippines by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) working with Cornell University. It has been published in the prestigious open-access scientific journal PLOS One.

The data, collected over three growing seasons in the Philippines’s main eggplant-growing region of Pangasinan, shows no significant differences between the number of insects and other arthropods and species between the GM Bt and non-Bt control eggplants. Anthropods include insects and spiders.

This finding is consistent with previous studies on insect-resistant Bt crops, such as cotton and corn, the study authors pointed out. The study came after the Supreme Court unanimous decision reversing its earlier ruling that temporarily stopped the field testing of the GM eggplant.

The paper is entitled “Assessing Potential Impact of Bt Eggplants on Non-Target Arthropods in the Philippines” and was published on October 31. The author of the study, which was subjected to PLOS One’s rigorous scientific peer review, is Dr. Desiree Hautea, professor of crop biotechnology of UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture.

“This first published report from extensive field studies of Bt eggplants affirms that the technology is ecologically benign,” Hautea asserted. Study coauthor Dr. Anthony Shelton, international professor of entomology at Cornell University, welcomed the publication of the results.

He commented: “This study confirms the environmental safety of Bt eggplant to non-target organisms under field conditions in the Philippines. Our previous study, published earlier in the same journal, documented the effectiveness of Bt eggplant against the destructive eggplant fruit and shoot borer. Combined, these studies clearly document the benefits of Bt eggplant to growers, farm workers, consumers and the environment.”

The study was funded by United States Agency for International Development, with match funding provided by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Philippine government’s Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (the funders had no direct role in the study, however).

The eggplants used were varieties (purple, long fruits) preferred by Filipino farmers and consumers, with the Bt gene crossbred into them from an original transformation event carried out in India by the seed company Mahyco, which donated its genetic technology to the project.  The field trials were carried out between March 2010 and October 2012.

Bt eggplant could be of significant benefit to Filipino farmers and consumers, the study authors suggest, because conventional eggplant is typically sprayed with insecticide up to 72 times during the 180-day cropping season to control infestation by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) pest. Bt eggplant, as a previous study by the same authors has demonstrated, is fully resistant to the fruit and shoot borer pest, so it does not require pesticide sprays to prevent damage by this insect.

Filipino farmers use broad-spectrum insecticides for the conventional control of EFSB, including profenofos, triazophos, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and malathion.

In contrast, EFSB-resistant Bt eggplant varieties can be grown by farmers as part of a more ecologically friendly integrated pest management agricultural system.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Philippines field research shows no negative impacts from Bt eggplant on non-target arthropods

The first-ever field level study of the effects of insect-resistant genetically modified Bt eggplants on non-target arthropod species, carried out in the Philippines by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) working with Cornell University, has been published in the prestigious open-access scientific journal PLOS One.

The data, collected over three growing seasons in the Philippines’ main eggplant-growing region of Pangasinan, shows no significant differences between the number of insects and other arthropod individuals and species between the genetically modified Bt and non-Bt control eggplants.

This finding that genetically modified Bt eggplant has no negative impacts on the biological diversity of non-target organisms is consistent, the study authors point out, with previous studies on insect-resistant Bt crops such as cotton and corn. The paper is entitled “Assessing Potential Impact of Bt Eggplants on Non-Target Arthropods in the Philippines” and was published on Oct. 31, 2016.

The corresponding author of the study, which was subjected to PLOS One’s rigorous scientific peer review, is Dr. Desiree Hautea, professor of crop biotechnology of UPLB’s Institute of Plant Breeding, College of Agriculture. “This first published report from extensive field studies of Bt eggplants affirms that the technology is ecologically benign,” Hautea asserted.

Study co-author Dr. Anthony Shelton, international professor of entomology at Cornell University, welcomed the publication of the results. He commented: “This study confirms the environmental safety of Bt eggplant to non-target organisms under field conditions in the Philippines. Our previous study, published earlier in the same journal, documented the effectiveness of Bt eggplant against the destructive eggplant fruit and shoot borer. Combined, these studies clearly document the benefits of Bt eggplant to growers, farm workers, consumers and the environment.”

The study was funded by USAID, with match funding provided by the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Philippine government’s Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office (the funders had no direct role in the study, however). The eggplants used were varieties (purple, long fruits) preferred by Filipino farmers and consumers, with the Bt gene crossbred into them from an original transformation event carried out in India by the seed company Mahyco, which donated its genetic technology to the project. The field trials were carried out between March 2010 and October 2012.

Bt eggplant could be of significant benefit to Filipino farmers and consumers, the study authors suggest, because conventional eggplant is typically sprayed with insecticide up to 72 times during the 180-day cropping season to control infestation by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) pest. Bt eggplant, as a previous study by the same authors has demonstrated, is fully resistant to the fruit and shoot borer pest, so it does not require pesticide sprays to prevent damage by this insect.

Filipino farmers use broad-spectrum insecticides for the conventional control of EFSB, including profenofos, triazophos, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and malathion. In contrast, EFSB-resistant Bt eggplant varieties can be grown by farmers as part of a more ecologically-friendly “integrated pest management” (IPM) agricultural system. Using resistant varieties as a foundation, IPM includes such techniques as sex pheromones for trapping adults and disrupting mating, removing infested plant parts and more selective and sparing use of chemical insecticides. Cornell’s Professor Shelton is an internationally-recognized expert on IPM.

IPM is more ecologically friendly, the researchers state, because “agriculture depends on several arthropod groups performing ecological functions such as decomposition, pollination and biological control that are essential to soil health and crop productivity.” Broad-spectrum insecticides kill a wide variety of these non-target arthropods, reducing the useful ecological functions they are able to perform and harming overall biodiversity in the field.

The PLOS One paper concludes:

“Farmers would gain profits because the technology would reduce EFSB damage, increase the marketable yield and lower production costs. Consumers would have an adequate supply of safer eggplant at a lower price. The adoption of Bt eggplant is projected to greatly reduce pesticide use on eggplant, thereby reducing both pesticide loading in the environment and hazards to farm laborers and consumers. Bt eggplant presents a more efficacious, environmentally benign and profitable alternative to the current practice of intense use of chemical insecticides in eggplant production.”

-Written in Cornell Alliance for Science.  See article link here.

Women’s groups enlightened on modern biotech in the Philippines

Women’s groups enlightened on modern biotech in the Philippines
Biotech scientists and a biotech corn farmer share their knowledge and experiences in the field to women and consumer groups during the seminar-workshop.
Biotech scientists and a biotech corn farmer share their knowledge and experiences in the field to women and consumer groups during the seminar-workshop.

More than a hundred officials and members of women’s and consumer groups, Pasig City government officials and constituents, and students and faculty of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasig learned about modern biotech, its science, safety, benefits, and products in the pipeline in the Philippines during the seminar-workshop “Women and biotechnology” held on 26 September 2016 in Pasig City. The activity particularly aimed to enhance their awareness and appreciation on the applications of modern biotechnology, and the impact of biotechnology products on women’s concerns. Resource persons include Philippine Genome Center-Agriculture Program deputy director Dr. Maribel Zaporteza; UP Manila College of Public Health professor Dr. Nina Gloriani; and Bt eggplant study leader from the University of the Philippines Dr. Lourdes Taylo. Biotech corn farmer-leader Rosalie Ellasus also shared her experience as a lady farmer and biotech advocate.

The activity was organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) Philippines, Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), and the Gender and Development (GAD) Wellness Center of the Municipality of Pasig. (Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena and Sophia M. Mercado)