(Photo from ISAAA website)

DAVAO CITY – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Friday approved the use of the Bt eggplant for direct use as food, feed, or for processing (FFP).

In a statement, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said the DA's Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) has issued Biosafety Permit No. 21-078FFP for the use of the Bt eggplant after a rigorous biosafety assessment in compliance with a joint department circular issued by the DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in 2016.

The circular sets rules and regulations for the research and development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.

The BPI found the Bt eggplant, locally called Bt talong, to be as safe as a conventional eggplant and can substitute for its traditional counterpart.

The Philippines is the second country, after Bangladesh, to certify the safety of the Bt eggplant.

Bangladesh was the first country to plant Bt eggplant in 2014. From 2014 to 2019, a total of 91,270 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh have planted Bt eggplant.

The Bt eggplant contains natural protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which makes it resistant to eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), the most destructive pest of eggplant.

The Bt protein affects EFSB worms only and is safe for humans, farm animals, and non-target insects.

"Bt eggplant is safe as it only targets EFSB. It is safe for humans, animals, and non-target insects," said Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader of the Bt eggplant project from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

She added that the FFP approval of Bt eggplant is the latest milestone in the biosafety regulatory process in the Philippines.

To complete the biosafety regulatory process, Taylo added that Bt eggplant will need commercial propagation approval for environmental safety assessment before it can be made available to the public.

“Ex-ante impact assessments of Bt eggplant adoption revealed that the commercialization of Bt eggplant will increase marketable yield by 192 percent and reduce pesticide application per hectare by 48 percent. When it is approved for commercial release, both the seeds of Bt eggplant open-pollinated and hybrid varieties will be made available to Filipino farmers,” she said.

The propagation and field testing of the Bt talong resumed in 2016, after the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision in 2015 stopping the measure.

A petition filed by environmental group Greenpeace and farmers' group Masipag opposed the measure, citing biosafety concerns. (PNA)