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Philippines Supreme Court reverses GMO ruling

by Joan Conrow

Talong farmer in the Philippines

The Philippines Supreme Court has reversed its decision to halt field trials of GMO talong, also known as brinjal and eggplant. 

The July 26 decision allows the government to resume the process of deregulating Bt talong — eggplant genetically engineered to resist the fruit and shoot borer, the most destructive eggplant insect pest throughout Asia.

The ruling follows an appeal by farmers, scientists and other agriculture advocates, who successfully asked the high court to reconsider its December 2015 ruling permanently stopping Bt talong field trials.

The high court initially upheld the Appellate court ruling, but today granted the motion for reconsideration and reversed its decision. It found that the case should have been dismissed for mootness since the field trials had already been completed and the associated biosafety permits had expired, according to a press briefing released by the court. 

“These effectively negated the need for the reliefs sought by respondents as there was no longer any field test to stop,” the briefing stated. “Hence at the time the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision dated May 17, 2013, the reliefs respondents sought and which were granted by the CA were no longer capable of execution.”

“The Court explained that it is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or riles of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before it,” the briefing stated. “An action is considered moot when it no longer presents a justiciable controversy because the issues have become academic or when the subject matter has been resolved.”

The Court further found that it should not have acted on the Constitutionality of the  Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order No. 08, which authorized the field trials, “as this matter was only collaterally raised.”

Bt brinjal has been engineered to express a protein from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium widely used for pest control in organic farming.  Bt brinjal is currently being grown only in Bangladesh, where farmers report reduced pesticide use, better yields, excellent consumer response and higher profits.

Its introduction to the Philippines has been fought by Greenpeace. In May 2012, the international activist group  successfully petitioned the  Court of Appeals to halt the field trials, which are conducted in a controlled, isolated setting to show the crop can be grown safely and successfully in local conditions. 

Results from trials over three seasons in the Philippines demonstrated that Bt brinjal provides outstanding control of the fruit and shoot borer and eliminates the need for additional sprays. Studies have also confirmed Bt eggplant is safe for the environment and humans.

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