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[genet-news] SCIENCE & POLICY: University of the Philippines-Mindanao hits campaign versus Bt eggplant





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TITLE:   UP-MINDANAO HITS CAMPAIGN VS GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS

SOURCE:  Business World, Philippines

AUTHOR:  Joel B. Escovilla

URL:     http://www.bworldonline.com/main/content.php?id=20966

DATE:    11.11.2010

SUMMARY: "In a statement, UP-Mindanao said Bt eggplant is a variety that combines superior characteristics of traditional eggplant species and "insect-protectant" gene of a useful bacterium, which exists naturally in the soil and has been used safely as insecticidal spray by organic and conventional farmers for decades. Contrary to claims of "well-funded" environmentalist groups, UP-Mindanao said tests will instead protect human health and the environment by reducing the use of toxic chemical pesticides that farmers purchase at high costs to control eggplant fruit and shoot borer infestation."

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UP-MINDANAO HITS CAMPAIGN VS GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS

DAVAO CITY -- Academics at the University of the Philippines (UP)-Mindanao have branded as baseless negative campaigns by environmentalists to discredit genetically modified eggplant currently undergoing pilot-testing at the university?s grounds in this city?s Mintal district.

In a statement, UP-Mindanao said Bt eggplant is a variety that combines superior characteristics of traditional eggplant species and "insect-protectant" gene of a useful bacterium, which exists naturally in the soil and has been used safely as insecticidal spray by organic and conventional farmers for decades.

Contrary to claims of "well-funded" environmentalist groups, UP-Mindanao said tests will instead protect human health and the environment by reducing the use of toxic chemical pesticides that farmers purchase at high costs to control eggplant fruit and shoot borer infestation.

On allegations of monopoly, "Bt eggplant seeds can be saved by farmers as the technology is not legally protected under Philippine laws," the university added.

"Campaigners who have deceived many Filipinos put too much weight on the opinion of Indian scientist Dr. Puspha Bhargava, who declared Bt eggplant as unsafe. Dr. Bhargava?s opinion is not supported by any verifiable/credible scientific evidence," it added.

During a public forum here, Mr. Bhargava claimed of over 60 documented health effects of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

He noted that he is not opposed to biotechnology as a process.

"The technology itself has been responsible for some of the significant breakthroughs in medical science, like the development of human insulin. But tinkering with an organism without proper tests is extremely dangerous, because once you release the plant, you cannot take it back," Mr. Bhargava said.

"There are 30 tests that need to be done before approving genetically modified plants, but these have not been conducted for Bt eggplant."

On the other hand, Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., a senior scientist at UP-Mindanao, said the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of India, which Mr. Bhargava is an active participant, has affirmed the safety of Bt eggplant.

He cited that Bt corn, a technology that is similar to that of Bt eggplant, "has been in use in the Philippines for more than 10 years, without any verifiable report on harm to environment or human health."

The UP-Mindanao field tests, Mr. Rasco said, are also confined and not an open field trial that the anti-GMO movement has alleged.

On information dissemination, Rene A. Estremera, spokesman of UP-Mindanao, said the university does not have resources to match that of environmentalists against Bt eggplant.

It only reached out to the public through two seminars in the last three months at the Mintal campus on the risks and benefits of Bt eggplant.

The Davao City Council last month passed a resolution supporting the executive department?s hard-line stance against Bt eggplant.

In his resolution, Councilor Conrado C. Baluran, committee on agriculture chairman, said there is no compelling reason for Davao City to welcome Bt eggplant as it contradicts the local government?s Organic Agriculture Ordinance.

"The city is agriculture-based, a major part of its economy and population depends on its agriculture produce and that for one crop to inflict damage to such sector is a gamble the city cannot make," he said.




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