Going back to the Jurassic era

HERE’S how City Hall and so-called environmentalists can bully scientists who are merely trying to help the country sustain food security through modern agriculture technology.

One afternoon, the Davao city government ordered a stop to the operations of an experimental site testing the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant at the University of the Philippines Mindanao campus on ground that there was lack of transparency.

Dr. Eufemio Rasco and his team research assistants immediately complied with Mayor Inday Duterte’s order and  uprooted the   genetically modified eggplants, half of them already bearing flowers and fruits.

The mayor’s cease-and-desist order was prompted by the resolutions in barangays Bago Oshiro and Mintal, which called for the immediate cessation of the field trials.

Leo Avila, the chief of the city agriculture office, said the university had to start all over again after it was found to have violated some of the existing orders such as lack of public consultations, which was the main issue raised by the Go Organic Mindanao, a coalition of groups pushing for sustainable and environmentally acceptable agriculture.

The group also alleged that the field testing exposes the local varieties of eggplant to contamination because it is not conducted within a confined trial.

Dr. Rasco can only explain that their experimentation had actually observed the safeguards to prevent contamination by putting up traps.

But  there is really  nothing to be scared of the Bacillus thuringiensis , the soil bacterium inserted in the eggplant genes by Indian  scientists to produce the genetically-enhanced eggplant, he later pointed out.

BT is actually “a friendly bacteria, not pathogenic and inhabiting the soil,” according to Rasco, a National Academician of the  National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).”Humans and plants have been cohabiting with it for a long time, probably we’ve  been eating Bt even before Bt eggplant,’ he said.

Rasco, described  by UP as one of Mindanao’s “most senior”  scientists was cheered by students who trooped to Lorenzo Hall in protest of City Hall’s order considering  that it  had invaded the academic freedom of the university, which has been in the forefront of  developing modern crops that could sustain agriculture growth.

Although it may scare us that this is a GMO,  the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), had actually pointed out that  genetically modified crops  are being used in the last 14 years and the precautionary principle no longer applies to it.

Still, the environment groups insisted that the Bt eggplant field test failed to go through  to the full complement of  risk assessment tests to ensure that the scientific breakthrough is safe.

I’m really surprised that environmentalist groups are again questioning the  Bt eggplant, when it had been developed  to be resistant to the fruit- and- shoot borer.

Eggplant has already emerged as a very important  crop in the country, covering 20,000 hectares of agricultural land. But the eggplant production continues to suffer yield losses from pests, diseases and extreme environmental conditions.

The most destructive is  the fruit-and-shoot borer, which has  been responsible for losses from 5 1 to 73 per cent of  eggplant yields.

Even the Department of Agriculture had earlier opposed any move to stop the field testing of Bt eggplant, saying that it would deprive  the country of a “very promising technology.”

If we can’t really beat City Hall, then we should start  preparing ourselves  in going back to the Jurassic Age. But with a burgeoning population, we can’t afford to feed the nation with crops that couldn’t even resist natural foes of crops that deter agricultural growth.

In the end,  instead of pushing for food security, we might just wake one day fighting among ourselves since eggplants and other vegetables have become so expensive that only the city officials and their elite core of so-called environmentalists could afford. Joel Paredes

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