Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eggplants destroyed by Greenpeace activists at U.P. Los Baños, but group is apprehended by University Police Force

(Pictures 1 to 4: A Greenpeace Philippines “decontamination unit” removes Bt talong (eggplants) growing in field trials at the U.P. Los Baños. Picture 5: A security officer from the Bureau of Plant Industries removes a sign calling attention to hazards posed by genetically-engineered Bt talong. Photos courtesy of Greenpeace Philippines.)

BAY, Laguna - The academic and scientific community of the Philippines, represented by the National Academy of Science and Technology, expressed indignation on the February 17, 2011 attack made by Greenpeace Philippines on the Bt eggplant field trial in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) – the first time a research project was assaulted in the more than 100-year history of the revered University’s campus, according to a press statement released on February 18, 2011 by SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center at College, Laguna.

The anti-biotech group Greenpeace forced entry to the field experiment but only succeeded in uprooting more than a hundred non-transgenic eggplants, which served as pollen traps and check varieties.

It was evident that the group had already planned the uprooting of the whole trial site. According to the press release in Greenpeace’s website, the group moved to “decontaminate” the trial site. They are insisting that the trial is dangerous to the environment and can contaminate local varieties and therefore has to be terminated. But what they mostly accomplished was to uproot the non-Bt eggplant pollen traps, which were planted around the trial to prevent cross-pollination in the first place.

Scientists reprimand rash act

“It is a sad day for Philippine science. Misinformed, misguided people are denying our poor farmers and consumers the benefits of good science,” said National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), and former UP President Dr. Emil Q. Javier.

He also said that the academy denounces and condemns the trespassing, destruction of government property, violation of academic freedom of university, and interference to legitimate activities of the scientific community.

The NAST president reaffirmed the academy’s support, in strongest terms, to the insistent and legitimate activity of the scientific community which is consistent with the national policy of the government on the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology products.

UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey I. Velasco said that the incident was in violation of the National Biosafety rules and was an affront to academic freedom in UPLB. “Being a University, we promote and are committed to academic freedom. We expect people who adhere to academic freedom and to science to also have equal respect to people who oppose their ideas. We respect opposing views and the views of Greenpeace. And while we do that, we are still bound by the rules and laws of the land,” he said.

Chair of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office Dr. Candida Adalla also slammed the attack.

“The DA remains steadfast in its position that the Bt eggplant trial is compliant to all government guidelines and therefore should not be destroyed. I particularly condemn the uprooting of the Bt plants because that is tantamount to stopping the truth to come out. Scientific experimentation is the only means to generate the truth and therefore all scientists should be allowed to conduct independent experiments. I also condemn the act of trespassing because it is a violation of academic freedom and the security of university property,” she said.

Local farmer points out the benefits at stake

Meanwhile, biotech corn farmer from the province of Pangasinan, Ms. Rosalie Ellasus, also expressed regret on the recent intrusion and destruction of the Bt eggplant trial site. She called for the anti-biotech group to consider the benefits at stake and hear the side of the farmers when it comes to what is beneficial for them.

She said that such groups need to understand the true needs of the farmers, and should not rashly take actions.

Ms. Ellasus lamented that the anti-biotech groups would not listen to the scientists. “They [the anti-biotech groups] won’t listen to what biotech experts have to say. Maybe if they would open their minds, even just once, and see the truth, they would know how these crops really benefit our farmers,” she said.

Ms. Ellasus pointed out that biotech corn farmers, which are already more a hundred thousand small-scale Filipino growers, cannot be stopped by the groups from cultivating the biotech crops. “They cannot do anything about it because we farmers have already realized the benefits of biotech corn,” she said.

According to Ms. Ellasus, “many farmers are already anticipating the Bt eggplant seeds. The crop is still under research, and it needs to go through the field trials to generate the data. They (the anti-biotech groups) are making our lives more difficult.”

Legally and fully supported, safe and compliant project

The Bt eggplant project has been consistently complying with all the biosafety conditions prescribed by the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8, as set by the national regulatory agency Bureau of Plant Industry. The regulatory assessment of biotech crops in the Philippines is science-based and is considered as a biosafety framework model by other countries. Since 2003, more than a million hectares of biotech corn have been planted in the entire country, and has benefitted more than 125,000 small-scale Filipino farmers.

Bt eggplant is developed through modern biotechnology and has inherent resistance to the most destructive pest-fruit and shoot borer. The project is now on the second season of multi-location field trial for the open pollinated variety (OPV). This very promising technology is expected to reduce the pesticide use and increase farmers’ income. Similarly, it could also provide positive impact to the environment and reduce the health risks associated with the extensive use of chemical pesticides. Farmers, especially those who have benefitted from the adoption of insect-resistant corn Bt corn, are looking forward to the commercialization of this innovative technology.

All the communities and local governments adjacent to the trial site have strongly supported and endorsed the trial.

Illegal entry?

The anti-biotech group arrived at the Bt eggplant field trial site of UPLB at around 6:30 in the morning.

Approximately 20 people, headed by Daniel Ocampo of Greenpeace, forced entry to the experiment by destroying the steel gate with a bolt cutter. Some media practitioners came with the anti-biotech group to document the destruction of the ongoing experiment and for a photo opportunity. Indian nationals wearing Greenpeace shirts were with the anti-biotech group during the illegal activity.

The anti-biotech group was apprehended by the University Police Force and will be facing charges in court.

“The issue now is that these people have violated rules and legal procedures in the University and in the land. Because of their actions, we will have to deal legally with them as an institution,” said Chancellor Velasco.

Greenpeace gives its side

A Greenpeace "decontamination unit" removed genetically-engineered Bt eggplant, locally known as ‘Talong’, from a field trial site in Barangay Paciano Rizal in Bay, Laguna, and sealed the experimental food crop in hazmat (hazardous materials) containers to prevent further contamination of neighboring fields and the environment, Greenpeace Philippines said in a press statement.

The Greenpeace activists were supported by organic farmers from Davao who had participated in a similar operation carried out by their provincial government last year.

“Greenpeace is taking action … to prevent any further contamination from these hazardous genetically engineered crops. This Bt eggplant experiment poses a threat to the environment and to farmers’ livelihoods, aside from violating the spirit of the Organic Agriculture Act. Once these experimental GMOs (genetically modified organisms) flower, their pollen can contaminate both conventional and organic crops, irreversibly damaging them,” said Daniel Ocampo, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“The public has the right to a safe environment and to food sources that are not genetically engineered. If the authorities, such as the DA, fail to uphold those rights, then it becomes legitimate for others to do so,” he added.

Greenpeace has called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to:
  • Halt all Bt eggplant field trials in the Philippines and decontaminate all existing field trial sites with immediate effect;
  • Implement the Organic Agriculture Act and ban genetic engineering of all food crops in the Philippines.
  • To take an active role in supplying sufficient quantity and quality of non-Bt seeds and support organic and ecological agriculture practices.
Bt eggplant field trials commenced in 2010 despite massive protests by farmers and consumers. Of the seven selected trial sites, Davao City, Baybay in Leyte, and Sta. Barbara in Iloilo, have issued municipal and barangay resolutions banning the field trials.

Similar statutes are still in process for Pangasinan, Laguna, Camarines Sur and North Cotabato, where field trials are already underway. Field trials were also conducted in Davao city last October but the plants were uprooted by the local government to uphold a resolution banning the trials.

“Like in India, there is no public support for Bt eggplant field trials and it is just not right for a few GMO proponents to conduct an open experiment that can inflict grave and possibly irreversible risks to an unsuspecting public,” added Shivani Shah, the sustainable agriculture campaigner from India who was on-hand to provide support to local efforts in implementing a shift to sustainable farming practices.

The Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant is genetically-modified to contain a built-in toxin to kill the fruit-and-shoot borer insect. It is currently not approved in any country including in India where the technology was sourced for use in the Philippines. Last February 2010, the government of India passed a moratorium on Bt eggplant commercialization to protect the country’s agriculture. In its decision, the Environment Ministry said that the science behind Bt eggplant is inadequate to answer the concerns raised by civil society groups, and that the country’s GMO regulatory system is inadequate.

An analysis of India’s Bt brinjal (eggplant) biosafety data by Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a French scientist, released in 2009 shows that the GMO eggplant is unsuitable for human consumption. The analysis concluded that Bt brinjal released into the environment, for food or feed, may present a serious risk for human and animal health.

“Greenpeace is urging DA Secretary Prospero Alcala to categorically ban all Bt Eggplant field trials. He has already stated that Bt eggplant will not be commercialized, which renders the field trials irrelevant. Safety concerns on Bt eggplant are still unanswered, and the risks are even more disturbing given the Philippines’ very lax and permissive regulatory systems. Only by halting the further entry and approvals of genetically engineered food crops can the DA achieve its goal of food security and sustainable agriculture in the country,” concluded Ocampo.

Earlier, the Diliman Diary had reported on the leading role that UPLB and U.P. Mindanao were playing in conducting field research on Bt eggplants being grown on a test basis in Davao City. Concerns over potentials of biological contamination impelled the Davao City government to destroy the plants over the protests of U.P. officials ( To see the copy of Davao City Mayor Duterte's cease-and-desist order sent to U.P. Mindanao Chancellor Gilda C. Rivero, please see the picture embedded below:

(To enlarge the scan, just click on it)

But even as the scientific debate rages in Davao City and Los Baños over the benefits and pitfalls of genetically modified organisms and the role of the University of the Philippines in furthering such research; the economic logic behind this goes largely undiscussed.

Neither side has so far referred to any big business interests that may be funding such University of the Philippines research on genetically modified organisms, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture.

The references to this are few and scanty, save for a leaked U.S. State Department cable quoting Vatican officials as saying that they and Philippine church officials were deeply concerned about the potentials of such patented biological products leading to the economic exploitation of marginalized farmers in poor countries such as the Philippines (see:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

The Diary Archive