The Philippine government ruled that Bt talong, a genetically modified (GM) eggplant that contains a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), is just like a conventional eggplant and is safe for human consumption.
This was according to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a not-for-profit international organization that shares the benefits of crop biotechnology to various stakeholders, particularly resource-poor farmers in developing countries like the Philippines.
To complete the biosafety regulatory process, Bt eggplant will now just need commercial propagation approval for environmental safety assessment before it can be made available to the public.
ISAAA was the first to reveal that after rigorous biosafety assessment, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) has already approved Bt eggplant event ‘EE-1’ for direct use as food, feed, or for processing (FFP).
BPI subsequently issued Biosafety Permit No. 21-078FFP, which has already been sent to the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).
Upon issuing the permit, BPI said that Bt talong “has been found to be as safe as a conventional eggplant, and can substitute for its traditional counterpart”.
Bt eggplant is resistant to eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), the most destructive pest of eggplant, according to ISAAA.
“Bt eggplant is safe as it only targets EFSB. It is safe for humans, animals, and non-target insects,” said Lourdes Taylo, study leader of the Bt eggplant project from UPLB.
The FFP approval of Bt eggplant is the latest milestone in the biosafety regulatory process in the Philippines, ISAAA said.
The Philippines joins Bangladesh as the only two countries that have certified the safety of 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 already planted Bt eggplant.
Based on earlier studies conducted on the potential costs and benefits of Bt eggplant commercialization, it was found out that average potential net benefit of planting Bt crop is 272,000 (US$6,243) per hectare higher than conventional varieties in the province of Pangasinan and P120,000 ($2,753) in Camarines Sur.
This significant increase in profit is due to increased marketable yield and reduced pesticide use. It was projected that there will be 48 percent reduction in pesticide application per hectare, which can then be translated to 19.5 percent lower environmental footprint compared to non-adopters.
Aside from the increase in income, significant health and environmental benefits will accrue from the significant reduction of pesticide use. Assuming a 50 percent adoption rate, the benefits of Bt eggplant to human health is valued at P2.5 million (US$57,353) per year while the collective benefits to farm animals, beneficial insects and bird is estimated to be P6.8million (US$155,841) per year, according to ISAAA.