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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Scientists blast ‘Rule of the Mob' in raid on Bt eggplant testing site in UP Mindanao 



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The forcible uprooting of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant planted at the UP Mindanao campus has earned the ire of academics and scientists who were appalled at the "invasion," saying it amounts to an "assault for the quest for truth."

Ostensibly, the raid at the Bago Oshiro campus was justified on the ground that there was no consultation with the local government when the test sites were planned and experiments set up in the UP MIN campus.

Mayor Sara Duterte has apparently been swayed into allowing the raid, which was carried out to the complete surprise of biotechnology advocates who were working on environmental safety and risks assessments associated with cultivation of Bt eggplant.

Dr. Candida B. Adalla, chief of the Biotechnology Program Office (BPO), was dumbfounded upon learning about the raid, which was pushed by Greenpeace and other purported environmental groups opposed to any form of test on Bt eggplant, also known as Bt brinjal in India.

Six Indian scientific institutions have also affirmed the safety of Bt eggplant and dismissed allegations that it is a "monster crop."

Dr. Eufemio Rasco of UP Mindanao, an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), had been engaged in a bitter debate with rabid opponents of Bt eggplant, which is now on field trial in seven sites nationwide.

He had supported the tests and said those who oppose it should remember that Bt is the same organic bacterium used in their Bt sprays commonly used in Mindanao and is also the same bacterium that is present in the soil .

Bt has been used to fortify the local eggplant variety to allow it to manufacture a protein that can protect the eggplant fruit by killing the dreaded fruits and stem borer that feeds on the country's most popular vegetable.

In spite of the fact that the insecticidal properties of Bt had been known since 1901 and it had been used in a number of products spanning several decades, Greenpeace and other still would not want any developing country to avail itself of the benefits from the bacterium, which inhabits the soil and is not pathogenic.

Adalla stressed that the field tests of Bt eggplant has been approved by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and subjected to rigorous assessments by the appropriate regulatory bodies and independent scientists before the tests were carried out.

As such, she argued, the test is legitimate, consistent and compliant with the government set guidelines noted as "one of the strictest in the world" and it is being use as reference by nearby Asian countriesnasnthey develop thir own policy for GM testing.

She expressed regret that "UP's academic freedom to do independent research was assaulted / violated, a tradition that UP holds so dearly. The uprooting of a scientific experiment is an assault to scientific inquiry and independence of responsible scientists in quest for truth. This is the first time it happened to the university, touted as the bastion of scientific research and technological innovations.

Sometime ago, Rasco (also a UP professor and scientist) had been criticized by the rabid opponents of Bt eggplant and any other genetically modified organism (GMO) but stood his ground and secured the support of UP students who had lauded his principled stand.

"Why are they so afraid of these tests? Even the Vatican itself had expressed support for research into biotechnological options to improve the quality of crops, raise the food inventory and assure farmers of better incomes. It seems they do not want facts.

They only want superstition to rule the food chain. Are we back to the Dark Ages?" he asked.

Since Bt was first used in 1901, there has never been a single case in which the friendly bacterium contaminated anything nor did it cause any disease.

In fact, organic farmers use Bt for their sprays but Greenpeace and other groups did not raise any howl, biotechnologists complained.

Going by their meterstick, the environmentalists want no intervention on plant genetics, Rasco said, but they should also train their guns on Fr. Gregor Mendel, the geneticist who opened the door for durable crops that they eat today.

He expressed fears that if these environmental groups can resort to the rule of the mob without being sanctioned, "then there would be no hope for science in agriculture and we might as well return to the rule of the jungle."


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