DAVAO CITY – Organic groups in Davao challenged the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UPMin) to be transparent on the true nature of the genetically modified Bt eggplant field testing. Previous statements prepared by UP Mindanao officials on the nature of experimental trials are now cast in doubt as copies of the contract have recently surfaced , revealing contractual obligations that run contrary to their official statements.
During last week’s hearing of the City Council Committee on Agriculture, UPMin Chancellor Gilda Rivero said that the Bt talong project is a public research which is funded by taxpayers money. But based on the contract obtained by organic groups, UP Mindanao is not party to the agreement made with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications ( ISAAA), which made the Bt talong project feasible.
Opponents of the field trial testing have managed to get hold of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the ISAAA and the University of the Philippines Los Banos Foundation, Inc (UPLBFI) and the University of the Philippines Mindanao Foundation Inc. (UPMFI). Among the glaring revelations in the contract is that the agreement was signed between private entities, and not with the State University itself.
The MOU lists the UPLBFI as a private corporation in Laguna while the UPMFI is a non-government organization based in Davao City. Dr. Cecilio Arboleda, UPLBFI Executive Director and Dr. Edmundo Prantilla, UPMFI President signed the MOU with Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA Global Coordinator.
Go Organic Mindanao (GOM) member and IDIS Executive Director Lia Esquillo said that this shows who the real instigators of the project are. “ Why are Hautea and Rasco insisting that the Bt talong is the property of the University when the contract was signed between private entities and not the University itself?”, she asked.
For GOM members, this is proof that the experiment is not being publicly funded but rather part of institutional arrangements between multinational corporations and research institutions.
GOM members are also particularly concerned over a MOU provision which states that the ISAAA, other than provide funds and technical and admin assistance to the other parties, shall assume no other responsibility and incur no liability arising from the conduct of the field trials.
“So this means that ISAAA can go scot-free if the Bt talong gene escapes into the local environment and gets consumed unknowingly ? “ , asked Esquillo.
Last month , a new analysis on the results of the feeding study on Bt talong revealed that the genetically modified eggplant poses significant risks to health as it had caused inflammation, reproductive and liver damage on experimental rats.
For Dr. Romeo Quijano, a prominent University of the Philippines medical toxicologist, this is enough reason why the Bt talong field testing must be stopped. Invoking the precautionary principle, he said “ There are now sufficient indications to show that this particular genetic modification of the eggplant will result to health related risks in humans . All the more reason, that the field testing must be stopped.”
Dr. Quijano, who also teaches at the UP Manila College of Pharmacology and Toxicology, further said that, “With the precautionary principle, there is recognition that long-term health impacts of genetically modified crops are difficult to predict and often impossible to prove,”he said. “It puts the burden of proof of safety on the polluter, in which case, is Monsanto”, he emphasized.
Organic farming advocates have been quick to point out that the Bt gene was sourced from the eggplant stock of the Maharashtra Hybrid Company (MAHYCO). MAHYCO is a known subsidiary of Monsanto, one of the world’s largest multinational agricultural corporation.
The track record of Monsanto on its devious strategies to ensure monopoly on seed ownership has been well documented. Under the guise of doing research to increase crop productivity, it enters into agreement with academic institutions. But the results of these industry studies which are usually submitted to regulators are unpublished and typically kept secret because they claim that it is “confidential business information”.
The MOU underscored this. In Section 1.3.8, the MOU obligates UPMFI not to disclose data info, findings and other incidents produced and borne during the field trial, hence fueling fears that if contamination occurs during the field testing, residents living near the testing site will never even know.
“If the gene contaminates the local varieties , who will tell us that what we are already consuming are Bt eggplants?”, asked Dagohoy Magaway, a local organic farming advocate. “And if we get sick from eating these genetically modified eggplants, who will be made liable?”.
Tom Villarin, Executive Director of SIMCAARD, a non-government organization focusing on farming issues and asset reform said that Hautea and Rasco should come clean on this issue. “Cut the crap. This is not just about raising crop productivity of eggplant farmers or ensuring food security for Filipinos”, he said. “The hidden agenda here is about multinational corporations trying to control our country’s food production. If they control seed production, they control the food supply. “, he stressed