CA ruling on GMOs may worsen malnutrition


THE RECENT Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that revoked the biosafety permits of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) Bt eggplant and Golden Rice halts scientific studies that may help curb severe malnutrition affecting Filipinos, an economist said.

“The most important impact of the CA ruling with regard to golden rice is the frustration of a promising and cost-effective approach to the severe malnutrition afflicting Filipinos, especially children and mothers,” V. Bruce J. Tolentino, Monetary Board member and former deputy director-general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

“The ruling is halting important science on a promising approach to dealing with malnutrition,” he added.

The CA followed an order of the Supreme Court (SC) to repeal the biosafety permits for the commercial use of Bt Eggplant and Golden Rice due to the potential risks to the environment and health of consumers.

The Golden Rice is a Vitamin A-enriched crop developed to address Vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

The Philippines in 2021 became the first country in the world to propagate Golden Rice commercially, according to the IRRI.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had said that Vitamin A deficiency may result in night blindness due to the drying of the cornea.

“An estimated 250,000–500,000 children who are vitamin A-deficient become blind every year, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight,” its website said.

Mr. Tolentino criticized the decision of the two courts, calling them “shortsighted” and “reflect an inadequate appreciation for advances in biotechnology.”

He bewailed how “advanced biotechnology for the improvement of crop yields and the development of climate change resilient varieties is being significantly delayed.”

However, Center for International Law President Joel R. Butuyan in a Messenger chat with BusinessWorld said the ruling should “serve as a wake-up call” for the government to take “health and healthful ecology” seriously.

“The ruling also recognizes the fact that GMOs cannot go side by side with organic farming and [the] government should address the problem of GMOs’ possible contamination of organic plants,” he added. 

In a WhatsApp message to BusinessWorld, Greenpeace Country Director Lea B. Guerrero said: “The DA should instead support ecological farming techniques that value farmer knowledge and rights to seeds, promotes biodiversity instead of monocultures, and is not dependent on agrochemicals.”

Greenpeace is one of the petitioners in the case. — Chloe Mari A. Hufana