“The court is convinced that the field testing of BT Talong is not a purely scientific activity which belongs within the province of scientists alone… those who are affected by the field testing must be consulted and must be engaged in the process of this kind of risky activity.”– Zelda Soriano, counsel for the petitioners
By RHENNIE N. CANTIGA
MANILA —Despite the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) to permanently stop the field testing of genetically modified eggplant or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Talong, petitioners remain vigilant.
On June 26, 2013, a media forum was held discussing the challenges that petitioners face following the victorious ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) to permanently stop the field testing of genetically modified eggplant or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Talong.
With the filing of three motions for reconsideration filed by the University of the Philippines—Los Banos (UPLB), the proponent of Bt Talong, peasants, scientists and advocates call on the CA to uphold its recent ruling against field testing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. The petitioners are alarmed at the aggressive media campaign being conducted by the proponents.
A paid advertisement was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 22 with the heading: “Professional Scientific Societies Support Bt Talong Field Trials. UPLB Will Ask the Court of Appeals to Reconsider its Decision to Stop the Field Trials of Bt Talong.” The ad was signed by 16 professional associations and societies.
The proponents claimed that the court ruling “was against academic freedom and food security of the country.”
Lawyer Zelda Soriano, political adviser of Greenpeace, deemed otherwise. Soriano believes that the CA ruling stands on solid ground despite the challenges to it.
“The court upheld the main argument of the petitioners that the field testing of BT Talong is characterized by serious scientific uncertainties as to the impact to human health and to the environment of such activity,” Soriano said.
She added that because of that, the court was convinced that the precautionary principle of the environmental law well-applies to the case. “[The] principle states that a human activity, project or program, wherein science has not yet arrived at any consensus of its safety, the government, specifically the regulator must take precautionary measures, must undertake preventive measures as to avoid or prevent or mitigate threats to health or to the environment,” Soriano said.
The second ground, according to Soriano, is that there is no absence of congressional enactment or law to govern such activity.
“What we have now is only a regulatory system that is inadequate and ineffective considering that the only guidelines provided are under Departmental order no. 8 from the Department of Agriculture and also a policy statement which is contained in the order,” she added.
Even then, the department order and policy statement were found to be non-compliant with international standards and practices to a safe, scientific experiment and other scientific activities.
Also, Soriano pointed out, the court recognized the economic plight of the petitioners. She said the field testing and subsequent commercialization of BT Talong would have negative effects on the livelihood of both farmers who prefer not to cultivate GM crops and consumers who might not favour the price and quality of the genetically modified eggplant.
“The court is convinced that the field testing of BT Talong is not a purely scientific activity which belongs within the province of scientists alone… those who are affected by the field testing must be consulted and must be engaged in the process of this kind of risky activity,” she said.
Moreover, Soriano said, the public needs to give consent if it will assume the risks associated in this BT techonology. Nevertheless, despite challenges to the CA ruling, Soriano said, the proponents can no longer use the results of their field testing as basis for commercialization.
“[The] decision invalidated the act of testing and the results of the field testing,” Soriano said.
Dr. Chito Medina, environmental scientist and coordinator for co-petitioner group Magsasaka At Siyentipiko Para Sa Pag-Unlad Ng Agrikultura (Masipag), said that while the UPLB may have the academic freedom to conduct researches, the said researches in agriculture must be governed by ethics.
“There must be an ethical committee to ensure that researches conducted must not contribute anything adverse to the environment and health,” Medina said.
Medina underscored the importance of consumer education in the campaign against GMO. “[The campaign] will pick up stronger and reach greater heights if there are well-informed consumers in the country. We really have to campaign more and make use of this decision by the Court of Appeals so that there will be more receptive reaction in banning and stopping GMOs in the Philippines,” he said.