CA upholds GM eggplant field trials ban

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CA ruling: Bt talong (eggplant) field trials violate the people’s constitutional right to a 'balanced and healthful ecology'

File photo of eggplants, Aug 8 2013. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals on Thursday, September 26, affirmed its earlier ruling banning field trials of genetically-modified eggplant on Philippine soil.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensiseggplant, or “super talong (eggplant),” is genetically-engineered to produce its own insecticide to protect it from crop-damaging pests.

A petition filed last May 17 by environmental group Greenpeace Southeast Asia and farmer-scientist coalition Masipag (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura) asked the appellate court to stop the planting of Bt eggplant in test fields, saying the impacts of such an undertaking to the environment, native crops and human health are still unknown.

READ: PH most ‘GMO-friendly’ country in Southeast Asia?

‘Precautionary principle’

The CA granted the petition, citing the precautionary principle stating “when human activities may lead to threats of serious and irreversible damage to the environment that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish the threat.”

Respondents to the case, led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environment Management Bureau (EMB), filed a motion for reconsideration in June.

But the CA chose to uphold their May decision saying the bt talong field trials violate the people’s constitutional right to a “balanced and healthful ecology.”

The 14-page resolution, written by Associate Justice Isaias Dicdican, dismissed the arguments presented by the respondents, saying, “The motions have not raised any substantial ground or reason that would call for the upturning of the findings of this Court.”

Associate Justices Myra Garcia-Fernandez and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela agreed with the ruling.

They issued the Writ of Kalikasan, ordering the respondents—which include the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation Inc, UP Mindanao Foundation Inc—to permanently “cease and desist” from conducting field trials.

The CA also commanded the respondents to rehabilitate the areas affected by the field testing. According to Greenpeace, tests have already been conducted in Laguna; Pili, Camarines Sur; Sta Maria, Pangasinan; Davao City and Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Respondents’ arguments

In their motion for reconsideration, the respondents argued that the the bt talong field trials were being conducted in a controlled and isolated environment. If the field trials prove the GM plant poses risks to health and environment, they would not recommend it for direct use or propagation.      

They also disputed the CA’s conclusion that there are no laws regulating the introduction and use of GMOs in the country.

Private respondent International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc cited Executive Order No 514 (National Biosafety Framework of the Philippines) and DA Administrative Order No 08-2002 as existing laws regulating GMOs.

UP Los Baños argued that the CA ruling violates its constitutional right to academic freedom. The Bt talong field trials are meant to further academic research in the realm of biotechnology.

But the court asserted that the right to academic freedom is not absolute.

The ruling stated: “Like any other right, the right to academic freedom ends when the overriding public welfare calls for some restraint. The right to academic freedom does not, in any way, give the respondent UPLB unbridled freedom to conduct, experimentation, studies and research that may put to risk the health of the people and the environment which are equally protected under our fundamental law. – With reports from Pia Ranada/

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