Monday, December 20, 2010

Bt Eggplants and Organic Farming

Mainstream environmentalism is often marked with romanticism. They romanticize the "native, non-bio-tech and organic" crops. Thus, they rabidly oppose the use of biotechnology, microbiology and other modern biological sciences in modernizing agriculture.

A few years back, many environmentalists attacked the use of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) corn, using scary imagery and illusions about the dangers of using natural and soil-dwelling bacteria like Bt on humans if they eat Bt corn. Aside from fear of the "unknown" like using biotechnology in corn farming, the environmentalists also feared a multinational agri-business firm, Monsanto, as the pioneering company for Bt corn. SEARCA in UP Los Banos has a good scientific but simple explanation about Bt corn and why it is not harmful as pictured by the rabid environmentalists,

Just what is Bt? Is it really a "stranger" to crops and soil, imported only by profit-hungry multinational capitalists to exploit farmers and consumers and make huge profit in the process? Picture of Bt from wikipedia.

Here is a brief description of Bt, from

What is Bt?
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a spore forming (flash animation) bacterium that produces crystals protein (cry proteins), which are toxic to many species of insects.

Where is Bt found?
Bt can be found almost everywhere in the world. Surveys have indicated that Bt is distributed in the soil sparsely but frequently worldwide. Bt has been found in all types of terrain, including beaches, desert, and tundra habitats.

How many kinds of Bt are there?
There are thousands of different Bt strains, producing over 200 cry proteins that are active against an extensive range of insects and some other invertebrates.

How does Bt work?
Bt has to be eaten to cause mortality. The Bt toxin dissolve in the high pH insect gut and become active. The toxins then attack the gut cells of the insect, punching holes in the lining. The Bt spores spills out of the gut and germinate in the insect causing death within a couple days.

Now these environmentalists have attacked the field trial and experiment of Bt eggplants in UP Mindanao, Davao City campus. The City government of Davao itself ordered and implemented the destruction of Bt eggplants inside the UP Mindanao campus -- they uprooted the plants! See news today, Davao exec orders uprooting of Bt eggplants

The use of science like Bt in various crops like corn and eggplants is supposed to help farmers raise their income via (a) higher yield and lower crop damage, and (b) little or no need for expensive pesticides, insecticides, contributing even to organic farming. Consumers also benefit via larger crop output and hence, lower and stable prices. But ugly environmentalism and their hatred of biotechnology and profit-motive makes the activists become irrational.

Philippine population is rising by 1.8 million a year, net of death and migration. Since our land area is not rising, and some agri lands are in fact converted to residential and commercial areas, there is no way but use modern science in agriculture if we are to help feed a rising population. Thus, environmentalism should consider this reality before they resort to destructive activities like uprooting and destroying crops using biotech and Bt technology.

1 comment:

Karl W. Braun said...

Whereas I can see the great potential arising out of biotechnology, products such as Bt eggplants are not one of them unfortunately. Should they be grown on a widescale basis, the possibility ever increases that insect pests will develop an immunity, thus negating the ability of Bt as a control for any crop. Furthermore, if such seed is marketed by Monsanto, you may be aware that they practice a very strict sense of patent enforcement, even to the extent of suing individual farmers of neighboring fields whose crops were inadvertently cross pollinated by Monsanto patented plants. Even a single bee could bring this about. So on the basis of these considerations, it comes to me that this particular application of biotechnology is not very appropriate.