FDA stands up to Greenpeace

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Atty. Dodo Dulay

Atty. Dodo Dulay

Readers and colleagues alike continue to solicit our view regarding the raging row between our Filipino scientists and the Europe-based pressure group Greenpeace.

The row stemmed from an all-out effort launched by Greenpeace to stop our Filipino scientists from conducting field tests for an eggplant variety developed through biotechnology.

This is the “Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) talong”, an eggplant with natural abilities to resist the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), a widespread eggplant pest that can reduce farmers’ harvest yield by half and even up to 73 percent.

The Bt talong’s built-in resistance allows farmers to do away with the excessive use of toxic chemical pesticides which are ineffective, expensive, and harmful to farmworkers and consumers’ health, especially in light of the recent studies done by National Institute of Health of the University of the Philippines showed that pesticide residues found in many domestic eggplants exceed the maximum safety levels for human consumption.

The row has already reached the courts with Greenpeace scoring a legal—but not necessarily scientific—victory over our local science community after the Court of Appeals (CA) ordered a stop to the Bt talong field trials.

Many of our readers and colleagues have asked been asking us whether or not the legal win scored by Greenpeace was a triumph of “hysterics” over science.

While we, as lawyers, respect the views and decisions of our courts, we’re not blind to the growing public outcry against the apparent “bullying” being done by Greenpeace—a multimillion-dollar enterprise with international donors and linkages.

At the receiving end of this European pressure group’s fierce assault are our scientists based in the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB), with former UP President and UPLB Chancellor Dr. Emil Javier fighting like David against the well-funded Goliath that is Greenpeace.

Dr. Javier said that the legal win scored by Greenpeace “a huge setback to the (country’s) struggling science community.”

We understand where Dr. Javier is coming from. Despite its meager resources, the UP community has always been at the forefront of scientific research and development. And in the case of Bt talong, their motive is clear: to reduce the hazards to human health, reduce toxic pollutants in the environment, and more importantly, to provide our farmers with the freedom of choice.

Now, it looks like it’s not just our Filipino science community, which is standing up to the bully tactics of Greenpeace.

We recently learned that the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), headed by UP alumnus Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go has issued a statement rebuking Greenpeace.

The FDA is the government agency that monitors, licenses and regulates all food and medical products commercially distributed in the country.

Dr. Hartigan-Go’s statement directly debunks the “myths” that Greenpeace has been circulating as part of what many say is a “strategic scare campaign”.

The FDA statement underscored three very important facts.

One, that food products developed through biotechnology are “as safe as conventional food”.

Two, biotech food products undergo more rigorous testing than conventional food products.

Three, the safety of biotech food products are backed by many international health and science organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The FDA explained that it takes around 10 to 14 years of meticulous research, testing and evaluation before biotech food products are approved for commercial release.

This is the rigorous process the Goliath Greenpeace wants stopped.

The FDA statement echoed the same stand Dr. Javier and our Filipino scientists have long made: “Farmers have a choice”.

The FDA statement also echoes the broad consensus in the global scientific community that biotech crops like BT talong pose no greater risk than conventional food and that no ill effects to humans from biotech food has ever been reported and/or proven in renowned medical and scientific journals.

Perhaps this is why even the United States’ Supreme Court – and other top courts around the world – has not come out with any decision or ruling assailing the safety of biotech food products.

By stopping the BT talong field trials, many professional colleagues say the CA appears to have usurped the powers of government agencies like the FDA, which have the particular scientific expertise (and authority) to determine the safety of biotech food products to Filipino consumers.

We’re told FDA’s Dr. Hartigan-Go was once corps commander of the UP-ROTC. Greenpeace should realize this guy, who looks professorial, cannot be intimidated.

So two respected Filipino scientists have now stood up to lead the battle against a “scare campaign” being perpetrated by a well-funded international group. It seems Greenpeace is in for a tough fight.

No matter which way this fight ends up in our courts, we salute our Filipino scientists for their courageous stand. You do make us very proud indeed.

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