Proponents of the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant are a step closer towards the commercialization of the country’s first genetically enhanced vegetable since the campaign started in 2003.
“In the Philippines we have completed the multi-location field trials in four provinces and we are preparing for submission and evaluation of the five inter-agency as ruled by the Joint Department Circular (JDC),” said Lourdes Taylo, entomologist and study leader of BT eggplant and University of the Philippines Los Baños researcher in an interview at the sidelines of the Biotechnology 101 & JDC Public Briefing held in the city last Monday, August 14.
The multi-location field trials were conducted in Pangasinan, UP Los Baños, Camarines Sur and Kabacan, North Cotabato.
Earlier, Bt talong proponents once brought Bt eggplant to Davao City for field testing but it was suspended during the term of Mayor Sara Duterte on the basis of technicality.
Sara revoked on May 26, 2013 the Biosafety permit for the field testing of BT Talong which paved the way for the suspension of the field testing done at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UPMin). However, the ban was due to technicality as the groups concerned failed to post a Public Information Sheet (PIS) at City Hall, one of the requirements of the law.
In an en banc ruling last year, the Supreme Court has reversed its 2015 decision that stopped the field testing of the Bt eggplants or Bt talong. The SC granted nine motions for reconsideration filed by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications Inc., Environmental Management Bureau, Crop Life Philippines, University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation and University of the Philippines, which asked the court to set aside an earlier ruling against the Bt talong field trials on the ground of mootness since field trials have ended in 2012.
Following this ruling, the Department of Agriculture (DA), along with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued a joint department circular to replace the DAO No. 8 issued in 2002.
Taylo said the JDC has put in place new requirements for the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Under the JDC, each of the regulatory agencies has to approve the tests from clinical and laboratory tests, contained and confined use, field testing and commercial propagation.
“We have to submit our regulatory dossier to these agencies for a permit for food, feed and processing so we can get the seeds from Bangladesh since Bt brinjal is already approved there,” she said. While the agencies have to act on the submission within 85 days, the approval must be unanimous. Any question by an agency will stop the clock so they are looking at a longer period before the permit is granted.
Taylo said the trials show the high level of effectiveness of Bt eggplant, both the open pollinated and hi-breed varieties against the target insect pest which is the Philippine Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB). Lovely A. Carillo