SC halts release of GMO rice, eggplant

The Supreme Court has issued a writ of kalikasan in response to a petition filed by environmentalists, scientists and organic agriculture advocates seeking to stop the commercial release of genetically modified rice and eggplant products.

The Court required the respondents, which include the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Secretary of the Department of Health, the Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the University of the Philippines – Los Baños, to file a verified return within 10 days from service.

In their petition filed on October 12, 2022, the petitioners led by the Magasasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) alleged that both Golden Rice and Bacillus thuringiensis Eggplant (Bt Eggplant) are genetically modified organisms, and that their commercial release would have adverse effects on the environment and human health.

Golden Rice, which is patented to Syngenta, a transnational agrochemical corporation, is a rice that has been modified by inserting a gene from maize and a gene from bacteria found in soil, allowing the plant to biosynthesize beta-carotene in the edible parts of rice.

On the other hand, Bt Eggplant was designed to produce its own toxin, which would kill the fruit and shoot borer, one of several common pests that consume and damage eggplants.

Masipag argued that the commercial release of these genetically modified products should be stopped until proof of safety and compliance with legal requirements is shown.

They also called for independent risks and impact assessments, the prior and informed consent of farmers and indigenous peoples, and the implementation of liability mechanisms in case of damage, as required by law.

The Supreme Court’s issuance of a writ of kalikasan is a significant victory for environmental advocates, who have long opposed the release of genetically modified crops in the Philippines.

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy that seeks to protect and preserve the right to a healthy environment. It is a relatively new legal concept in the Philippines, having been introduced in 2010 through the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment vs. DENR case.

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