The study, featured in a book launched last month (6 February) by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications and the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, refers to the GM eggplant which have been genetically modified to resist infestations of the fruit and shoot borer. The said moth species is considered the most damaging pest attacking eggplants in South-East and South Asia. Its larvae feed inside the eggplant, making the fruit unmarketable and unfit for human consumption. At times, yield loss could be total.
The majority of eggplant farmers, the study says, had no prior knowledge of GM eggplant yet expressed an interest in adopting it when informed of its resistance to fruit and shoot borers.
But while proponents consider the GM eggplant ideal for pest management and say it is non-toxic to humans, opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMO) say otherwise.
Lorena Villareal, executive director of the NGO Alay Bayan-Luzon Inc., which is involved in advocacy work and community mobilisation programs, says studies are being used to encourage farmers to the shift to GM foods, while downplaying suspected long-term impact of GMOs on health and contamination of the environment.
“We would like to have consciousness-raising awareness for farmers to explain the difference between producing for income and producing for consumption,” says Villareal, adding that while it is natural that farmers would like to earn big, they also have a social responsibility.
But Saturnina Halos, chairwoman of the Department of Agriculture’s biotechnology advisory team, says farmers are willing to adopt the GM eggplant even at a higher price as they understand this could result in significant savings on pesticides and see the potential for developing the market for the variety.
Field testing of GM eggplant has ceased in the Philippines following a court order in May 2013 upholding a petition filed by Greenpeace and other groups. The court ordered a stop to field trials of GM eggplant “in the absence of full scientific certainty that they are safe to humans and the environment”.
It used evidence from a paper published by a team led by French scientist and molecular biology professor Gilles-Eric Seralini that said that rats fed with GM maize developed cancer tumours to reach its decisions Food and Chemical Toxicology journal retracted the paper in November 2013 following criticisms on the paper’s methodology by other scientists. The journal’s editor said that the results presented were “inconclusive”.
Emil Javier, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines, tells SciDev.Net: “The retraction by a journal of a research study that was cited by the Philippine court for its decision to ban the GM eggplant field trials goes to show that the objection of Greenpeace, which quoted extensively the Seralini research, really has no basis.”
Mark Lynas, a British journalist and formerly against GMOs, now urges scientists to be more active in debates and explain the importance of their work as they are losing the public relations to anti-GMO groups.
On the GM eggplant, scientists “must explain that the GMO route is essential to reduce pesticide applications that are currently endangering the health of farmers and consumers alike” he says.
Link to the book
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.