A GROUP of local corn growers assailed the Supreme Court ruling permanently banning the field trials of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant and other genetically modified crops, saying that the decision could only lead to massive hunger in the country.
“We believe that the government is initiating a time bomb, which will explode sooner than later. That time bomb is hunger,” Roger Navarro, Philippine Maize Federation Inc. president, told reporters on Friday.
In its ruling made public on Tuesday, the high court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals granting a writ of kalikasan to Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which permanently stopped the propagation of Bt talong and declared the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8-2002 on such tests null and void.
The SC said that the DA’s administrative order failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety set in Executive Order No. 514 which established the National Biosafety Framework.
In the same ruling, the high tribunal also temporarily stopped the government from accepting applications for field testing, propagating, and importing GMOs.
“Any application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms is temporarily enjoined until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with the law,” it said.
It also ordered the government to prepare an immediate plan of action to rehabilitate field trial sites and protect, preserve, and conserve the environment, and recommend policies and measures to reform the present regulatory process.
Navarro said the court has turned against science when it cited the precautionary principle, saying that the decision was based on fear and not on solid scientific findings.
The Philippine court is the first in the world to adopt the precautionary principle—which says it is best to err on the side of caution in the absence of scientific consensus.
“We we’re caught off guard by the decision. All the while we thought that GM crops, particularly corn, were acceptable since it was properly argued by scientists,” he said.
“Legal people are now playing scientists, which may jeopardize the country’s food security. These justices should undergo a seminar on GMOs for them to appreciate the technology,” he added.
12-M farmers depend on corn
The PhilMaize chief noted that 12 million farmers are dependent on corn for livelihood and that the SC decision will not only affect their income but also result in massive displacement in the sector and disrupt the GMO chain.
At present, about 800,000 hectares are dedicated to GM corn in the country. Of the 7.5 million metric tons of grains produced in 2014, about 4 million MT were GM corn.
“If we’re going to stop cultivation and importation of these grains, where are we going to source our raw materials for feeds? Where will the local feed millers source the commodity when all of the major export ers of corn and even soy bean, the main material for animal feeds, were also using GMOs?” Navarro said.
“Clearly it will send a chilling effect not only to corn farmers, but it will also force feed mills and other stakeholders such as livestock and poultry, which are highly dependent of GM crops for raw materials, to close shop,” Navarro said.
The official said that only the pesticide and insecticide manufactures funding anti-GM campaigners will benefit from the ruling—at the expense of farmers and consumers.
“By next year, all of GM crops will be illegal. With no crops to plant and importation banned, job losses and a massive spike in the prices of goods is inevitable,” he said.
Farmers and consumers, together with environmental organization Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), and other petitioners, welcomed the permanent ban on field trials of Bt talong and the temporary ban on the development of genetically engineered crops.
“The landmark decision of the Supreme Court is major victory for Filipino farmers,” said Virginia Benosa-Llorin, food and ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines.
“It is high time that the Philippine government also looks at new, innovative and science-based ecological farming,” Llorin added.