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CA upholds ruling stopping genetically modified eggplant field trials

The Court of Appeals has upheld an earlier ruling preventing the government from conducting field testing of genetically modified, pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong (eggplant).

In a 10-page resolution, the appeals court denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the respondents seeking to reverse its May 17 ruling stopping field testing for the plants. The CA said the writ of kalikasan and continuing writ of mandamus it had issued in favor of the petitioners were "justified and warranted."

"One conjunct right in the whole Constitutional guarantee is factually and is undoubtedly at risk, and the other is still factually uncertain, the entire constitutional right of the Filipino people to a balanced and healthful ecology is at risk," said the CA in a September 20 ruling penned by CA Associate Justice Isaias Dicdican.

In its motion for reconsideration, the respondents claimed the CA erred in its decision, stressing that the field trials were being done in a "controlled and isolated environment."

The respondents said they would anyway not release results of the field tests should their results prove to be adverse to humans.

But in its latest ruling, the CA said the respondents seemed to be "just making a slim dichotomy or bifurcation of ends."

"The ultimate end of the whole exercise appears to be that the bt talong will eventually be released to the general public for food consumption if it passes the safety assessments," the court said.

In its original ruling, the CA Special 13th Division issued a "writ of kalikasan" ordering the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned government agencies to stop the trials.

The court said that, as a "precautionary" measure, the field testings should be stopped in the absence of "full scientific certainty" that they are safe to humans and the environment.

“It is clear that there is no full scientific certainty yet as to the effects of the bt talong field trials to the environment and the health of the people,” said the appellate court.

“[F]ield trials of bt talong could not be declared by this Court as safe to human health and to our ecology, with full scientific certainty, it being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology.”

The court said as long as "scientifically plausible" field testings remain "scientifically uncertain," actions should be taken to avoid and diminish the possible threats and damage to environment they may cause.

Scientists', farmers' petition

The case started when a group of scientists, farmers, and other concerned individuals earlier asked the Supreme Court to stop the government from introducing genetically engineered eggplants to Philippine soil, citing health and environmental hazards.

In a 68-page petition for continuing mandamus and Writ of Kalikasan, the petitioners oppossed the government's field testing of Bt talong.

The government has been conducting field tests for Bt talong since 2010 in Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Davao City, Laguna, and North Cotabato.

But in its petition, the petitioners said the project proponents of Bt talong did not only fail to secure the necessary environmental compliance certificate, but did not consult the respective local government units, non-government organizations and other sectors.

"Bt talong is a classic environmental case where scientific evidence as to the health and environmental safety and socio-economic impact is insufficent, inconclusive or uncertain," the petitioners said.

The Supreme Court eventually issued a writ of kalikasan on May 2, 2012 and remanded the petition to the Court of Appeals for hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved. — BM, GMA News