Greenpeace International, the Amsterdam-based environmental advocate, is robbing Filipino farmers of their chance to increase agricultural productivity and mocking the world food security program.
Ranged against Filipino scientists, Greenpeace is doing all it can to stop the Philippines from expanding the adoption of pesticide-free crop varieties. It wants to ban the field testing of Bt Talong, an eggplant variety developed by scientists that does not require pesticide because of a built-in resistance against pests.
For Greenpeace, the improved crop is unfit for human consumption. It initially obtained a Writ of Kalikasan from the Court of Appeals to stop the field testing. But Filipino scientists, along with farmers, asked the Supreme Court to lift the ban and allow them to complete field tests for Bt Talong. The tests are a required step before the plant variety goes into commercialization.
The ban on field tests has deprived Filipino farmers of their basic freedom of choice. The completion of field trials on Bt Talong and the eventual approval for commercialization would give local farmers the right to select the crop fit for their livelihood earnings. They can either opt to plant the biotech variety, which does not need the traditional use of chemical pesticides, or stick with the conventional eggplant that has to be sprayed with the substance.
The issue of food safety is a scientific one which local scientists and Greenpeace’s activists are currently debating. In the ensuing arguments, Greenpeace claimed the plants developed using biotechnology were not good for the Filipinos. The local science community, meanwhile, said the modern agriculture biotechnology was vital to food security and that crops developed through that process were as safe, “if not safer,” than traditional types.
Leading the effort to adopt Bt Talong is Dr. Emil Javier, the 17th president of the University of the Philippines and an American-educated expert on plant genetics. Dr. Javier is also a former chancellor of UP Los Baños, the country’s premiere hub for agriculture research, and has made it a personal cause to promote the role of plant science in improving the lives of farmers and consumers alike.
Aiding Javier in the defense of the safety of biotechnology is Dr. Kenneth Y. Hartigan-Go, a former Asian Institute of Management and UP College of Medicine professor, who was named head of the Food and Drugs Administration in 2012.
The stakes in the Bt Talong case are larger. The future of scientific research in the development of crop varieties that can withstand one of the food production sector’s biggest challenges—massive infestation, such as what the coconut industry is facing today—now hangs in the balance.