Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court on December 8 to stop the field testing for Bt talong (Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant). Bt talong is genetically modified by inserting a gene from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis.
“This Supreme Court decision is a triumph for Filipino farmers who rely on rich agricultural biodiversity for their livelihood,” says Normita Ignacio, Executive Director of SEARICE. “Agricultural biodiversity is essential to climate change adaptation and to the realization of every Filipino’s right to food. Without agricultural biodiversity, which is safeguarded by farmers’ use of traditional knowledge, we simply cannot grow enough food for everyone in the face of droughts, salt water intrusion into the soil, high temperatures and typhoons brought about by climate change. It should not be unduly threatened by risks from GM crops. Unleashing new genes in an ecosystem without proper regulation seriously threatens agricultural biodiversity, and therefore, threatens our survival.”
The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) applying the precautionary principle in finding that the existing regulations of the DA and the Department of Science and Technology are not enough to ensure the safety of the environment and the health of the people. “When these features—uncertainty, the possibility of irreversible harm, and the possibility of serious harm—coincide, the case for the precautionary principle is strongest. When in doubt, cases must be resolved in favor of the constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology,” the court said.
The Supreme Court further modified the CA decision by declaring null and void the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s Administrative Order No. 08, series of 2002. The SC, therefore, ruled that any application for field testing, contained use, propagation, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also temporarily stopped pending the promulgation of a new administrative order.
SEARICE echoes the SC’s pronouncement that the National Biosafety Framework (Executive Order 514) mandates a “more transparent, meaningful, and participatory public consultation on the conduct of field trials” beyond the mere posting of notices and consultations with residents and government officials.
“SEARICE has long been calling for biosafety regulations with transparency, meaningful public consultation and scientific rigor in assessing, communicating and mitigating risks to the environment,” says Ignacio. “This is why when Dr. Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, came to the Philippines and conducted a consultation with the CSOs, we called on her to ask the government to review the current biosafety regulations and bring it in line with its duty towards the realization of every Filipino’s right to adequate and nutritious food.”
It will be recalled that in one of her interviews, Dr. Elver expressed her opposition to GMOs, noting the unknown long-term health impact of GMOs.
Ignacio added, “Further, assessment of socio-economic considerations should not focus only on income but more importantly, on conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, especially with regard to the value of biological diversity to indigenous and local communities. Biosafety regulations should, once and for all, give due importance to agricultural biodiversity and farmers’ rights to plant genetic resources or seeds.”
SEARICE is a regional development organization that promotes and implements community-based conservation, development and sustainable use of Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) in partnership with farming communities, civil society organizations, government agencies, academic research institutions, and local government units in Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Timor Leste, and Vietnam.