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RISK ASSESSMENT & APPROVAL: Will the Philippines be ready for Bt eggplant?





------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   WILL THE PHILIPPINES BE READY FOR BT EGGPLANT?

SOURCE:  Malaya Business Insight , Philippines

AUTHOR:  Paul Icamina

URL:     http://www.malaya.com.ph/11192010/agri1.html

DATE:    19.11.2010

SUMMARY: "We are at the experimental farm of the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Banos in Barangay Paciano Rizal where Bt eggplant was on its last stages of field trials. [...] India early this year declared a moratorium on its commercialization, citing safety and environmental concerns. The IPB is developing the Bt eggplant in partnership with Mahyco and Cornell University with the support of the US Agency for International Development; International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications; Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology."

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WILL THE PHILIPPINES BE READY FOR BT EGGPLANT?

BAY, Laguna ? Nothing goes out of here.

The sign says it all: "Confined Trial. For research purposes only, not approved for food or feed."

We are at the experimental farm of the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines Los Banos (IPB-UPLB) in Barangay Paciano Rizal where Bt eggplant was on its last stages of field trials.

Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural insecticide produced by a soil bacterium. It has been inserted into the genes of the eggplant to kill the fruit and shoot borer (or worm), the crop?s major pest.

The movement and harvest of the gene-modified plant materials are always under watch by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the Bureau of Quarantine.

To prevent the cross-pollination ("contamination," critics say) of other plants, nothing is grown within 200 meters of the test plots. Harvested Bt eggplants are analyzed then chopped, boiled and burned on site.

"We have one of the strictest safety regulations in the world," said the BPI?s Emma Eusebio.

Proponents of the Bt eggplant are extra careful these days because the stage is set for the human consumption of a vegetable whose genes have been modified to kill a major pest.

That will happen after nationwide multi-location field trials. Already, local governments in Davao City and Sta Barbara, Iloilo, want to ban the field tests and other municipalities in Pangasinan, Laguna, Camarines Sur, Leyte, and North Cotabato are expected to follow. These are the sites where multi-locational field trials are currently being held.

The next step is commercialization ? maybe next year with government approval ? when seeds will be made available to farmers.

The license to commercialize the Bt eggplant has been given free by its developer ? the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) of India ? to the IPB which may just decide, with the consent of the UPLB Board of Regents, to give the seeds almost free to seed farms.

Selling the gene-modified seeds at cost to the public ? after factoring in propagation and production ? derails the contention of critics that Bt eggplant is a conspiracy of big business and scientists to put one over farmers who will have to buy seeds again and again to benefit from the technology.

The IPB will come up next year with an open pollinated variety that will enable poor farmers to save the seeds after one planting for continued use into the next season. A hybrid Bt eggplant with 100 percent more yield will be available by 2012 but it will require farmers to buy the seeds each planting season.

IPB researchers hope the Bt eggplant will significantly decrease the heavy reliance of farmers on insecticide sprays that are effective only against newly-hatched caterpillars that have not yet tunneled into the plant.

Commercial eggplant varieties have no borer resistance, a trait difficult to produce by conventional plant breeding.

Through genetic engineering, scientists inserted the Bt bacterium that specifically kills the borer caterpillars ? and no other organisms.

The borer is the major pest of eggplants, the country?s leading vegetable that is grown in 21,300 hectares; the annual crop of 199,580 metric tons is worth P3.446 billion. In fact, the Philippines is the world?s sixth largest eggplant producer.

Eggplants make for about 20 percent of the country?s vegetable consumption. More than a third come from the Ilocos provinces (90 percent of that from Pangasinan); major producers are Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley.

Today, Bt eggplant field testing have been done or are being made at the IPB field in Bay, Laguna; Sta. Maria, Pangasinan; Sta. Barbara, Iloilo; Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte; University of the Philippines Mindanao in Davao City; University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato; and the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture in Pili, Camarines Sur.

"When approved for commercialization, the cost of the Bt eggplant seeds would approximate the market price of conventional varieties," said Lourdes Taylo, an IPB insect scientist. "The same seed requirement and cultural management per hectare applies, except that the insecticide spray against the fruit and shoot borer won?t be necessary."

Together with the Philippines, Bangladesh and India have also adopted the Mahyco technology; India early this year declared a moratorium on its commercialization, citing safety and environmental concerns.

The IPB is developing the Bt eggplant in partnership with Mahyco and Cornell University with the support of the US Agency for International Development; International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications; Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Before the Bt eggplant is approved for commercial use, it has to pass DA and DOST tests and safety assessments, from contained research in laboratories and screenhouses; small confined trials; and now, multi-location field trials.

Pest-resistant Bt eggplant cultivation will raise farm yield by 40 percent, according to an economic impact assessment made by UPLB.

Farmers cultivating Bt eggplant can save P13,959 that would otherwise would have gone for the purchase of pesticides, the study says, noting that eggplant farmers now use up to 30 percent of their production expenses for pesticides.

Adoption of the Bt eggplant means an increase in farmers? income by about P50,000 per hectare, and a 16 percent decrease in total production cost. Consumers could also enjoy potentially cheaper eggplants with lower insecticide residues.