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Commercial production of Bt eggplant seen by 2019

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Bt. eggplant
Bt. eggplant cultivated in a confined location at IPB-UPLB -- CARMENCITA A. CARILLO

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA — The Supreme Court may have reversed its 2015 decision stopping field testing of genetically modified (GM) crops, but the commercial propagation of Bt eggplant remains stalled at the regulatory level.

A Joint Department Circular (JDC) has put in place new requirements for GM organisms (GMOs), including unanimous approval from five departments: Agriculture (DA), Science and Technology, Health, Environment and Natural Resources, and Interior and Local Government.

The nine motions for reconsideration granted by the court were by filed by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc.; Environmental Management Bureau; Crop Life Philippines; the University of the Philippines (UP); and the UP Los Baños (UPLB) Foundation.

“We will try to get regulatory approval this year and (final) approval next year,” said Dr. Desiree M. Hautea, project leader of Bt Eggplant program, in an interview at the Institute of Plant Breeding-UPLB Friday.

In a previous interview with BusinessWorld, Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, the study leader for Bt eggplant, said the team has to submit the regulatory dossier to the five departments for a permit for food, feed and processing before sourcing seed from Bangladesh, where the Bt brinjal variety is approved.

India, Bangladesh and the Philippines have engaged in Bt eggplant research, but only Bangladesh has so far approved, planted and brought the crop to the commercial production stage.

The Philippines has completed multi-location field trials conducted in Pangasinan, UPLB, Camarines Sur, and Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Ms. Hautea said Bt eggplant proponents in the Philippines have fully satisfied three of the four stages and requirements for biosafety of GM crops, which are: contained trials in a research laboratory in 2005-2007; single-location, limited confined field trial from 2008-2009; and multi-location trials in four locations from 2010-2012. The next step is commercial cultivation.

Ms. Hautea said there are more than 21,000 hectares planted to eggplant. Based on Philippine Statistics Authority 2016 data, eggplant farmers annually produce about 215,278 metric tons of eggplant.

The Top five eggplant producing provinces are Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Iloilo, and Quezon.

Studies show that the current practice of eggplant farmers involve the use of chemical pest control against the fruit and shoot borer.

“Pesticide use in eggplant production has health and environmental effects,” said Ms. Hautea.

“Majority of farmers are willing to pay for Bt eggplant seed at a price higher than the price of regular seed in the market mainly because of the large savings on the use of chemical pesticides.” — Carmencita A. Carillo