The Philippines has been used as a model for GE regulatory policy around the world, but now we are finally making progress to give people a right to choose the food they want to eat and the type of agriculture they want to encourage.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines has ordered a permanent ban on field trials of GM eggplant and a temporary halt on approving applications for the "contained use, import, commercialisation and propagation" of GM crops, including the import of GM products.
The court ruled in favour of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, as well as several Filipino activists, academics and politicians, in a major victory for Filipino farmers and activists around the world (see full list below).
"This decision builds on a wave of countries in Europe rejecting GE crops, and is a major setback for the GE industry", said Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Ecological Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.
"The Philippines has been used as a model for GE regulatory policy around the world, but now we are finally making progress to give people a right to choose the food they want to eat and the type of agriculture they want to encourage."
The temporary ban is in place until a new 'administrative order' takes effect. It notably includes the highly controversial GM 'golden rice', an experimental project by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that is currently back at the R&D stage due to the crop's poor yields and performance in the field.
However it is not expected to impact on the 'Bt' GMO corn already grown in the Philippines, engineered to express insecticide throughout the plant and its seeds, which accounted for about a quarter of the country's corn crop in 2014.
Upholding the precautionary principle on genetic contamination
The Supreme Court decision sets a global precedent as it is the first legal decision on GM in the Philippines using the Writ of Kalikasan (environment) - a legal environmental remedy found only in the Philippines.
The court is also the first in the world to adopt the precautionary principle - which holds that it is best to err on the side of caution in the absence of scientific consensus - regarding GM products in its decision.
"This case vindicates the many cases of genetic contamination we and others have highlighted, as well as the simple fact that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of genetically engineered crops", said Benosa-Llorin. "It's a major victory for Filipinos, especially for farmers struggling with incidents of genetic contamination."
"GE crops promote an ineffective farming model based on industrial agriculture, a system that cannot withstand the impacts of a rapidly changing climate, and which is failing to deliver what Filipinos currently need: food and nutritional security in times of erratic weather patterns", said Benosa-Llorin.
No more GE approvals until further notice
The decision of the high court invalidates the Department of Agriculture's Administrative Order No. 08-2002 (DAO8) and will bar the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology from issuing any GE approvals, pending crafting and approval of a new Administrative Order. It will also impact the trade of GE crops and products.
A recent USDA report observed that "the Philippines' prominence in biotechnology has made the country a target for domestic and international anti-biotech groups. This opposition in early 2012 culminated in a lawsuit challenging the safety of Bt eggplant.
"The resulting court decision ordered a halt to GE field tests and has slowed the final approval process. Respondents to the case have all filed petitions to the Philippine Supreme Court (PSC) seeking a reversal of the lower court's decision."
Now it looks like the USDA's worst nightmares have been realised: the Supreme Court has affirmed the May 2013 Court of Appeals order for the government to prepare an immediate plan of action to rehabilitate field trial sites and protect, preserve, and conserve the environment, as well as recommending measure to reform the current regulatory process.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia is calling on the Philippines government to support ecological agriculture policies, investments and funding.
This article was originally published by GMWatch. Additional reporting by The Ecologist.
The petitioners to the case are: Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka Siyentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), Rep. Teodoro Casino, Dr. Ben Malayang III, Dr. Angelina Galang, Mr. Leonardo Avila III,Ms. Catherine Untalan, Atty. Maria Paz Luna, Mr. Juanito Modina, Mr. Dagohoy Magaway, Dr. Romeo Quijano, Dr. Wency Kiat, Atty. H.Harry Roque, Jr, Former Sen. Orlando Mercado, Mr. Noel Cabangon, Mayor Edward Hagedorn, Mr. Edwin Marthine Lopez