International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc. v. Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines)

Genetically-modified Organisms (GMOs)
Precautionary Principle
Right to ... Healthy Environment

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc. v. Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), G.R. Nos. 209271, 209276, 209301 & 209430 (December 8, 2015)
Supreme Court of the Philippines

The Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld a lower court decision invalidating an administrative order governing import and release of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the Philippines. The Court addressed a range of issues, from standing and mootness to application of the precautionary principle.  On the procedural claims by the petitioners that the case was moot and “academic” because all field trials had been suspended, the Supreme Court found the paramount public interest in the case and the fact that the legal issues were capable of repetition yet evading review justified the Court’s review of the case.  Page 38.  The Court also noted the petitioners were warranted in seeking judicial review because the biotechnology administrative framework does not provide “a speedy, or adequate remedy.” Page 40.

The decision explains the current controversy over GMOs and, in particular, genetically-modified food crops for human consumption.  Drawing on research and case studies from around the world, and the testimony of expert witnesses, the Supreme Court found there to be no consensus on the safety of Bt talong to humans and the environment, stating “[t]hese divergent views of local scientists reflect the continuing international debate on GMOs and the varying degrees of acceptance of GM technology by states . . . .” Page 69.  The Court also cautioned that the “uncertainties generated by conflicting scientific findings or limited research [are] not diminished by extensive use at present of GM technology in agriculture.”  Page 70.

Turning to the existing biosafety regulation in the Philippines, the Supreme Court found Administrative Order (DAO) 08-2002 deficient because it lacks provisions for meaningful, participatory, and transparent public consultation prior to field trials and contains no mechanisms requiring applicants seeking to import or release GMOs to comply with international biosafety standards.  Pages 89-91.  The Court also found that officials should have complied with environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures prior to approving release of Bt talong.  Pages 91-92.

Invoking the precautionary principle, the Supreme Court blocked further field trials of Bt talong until regulatory systems governing the import and release of GMOs are strengthened.  “When these features – uncertainty, the possibility of irreversible harm, and the possibility of serious harm – coincide, the case for the precautionary principle is strongest. When in doubt, cases must be resolved in favor of the constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology.” Page 100.  The Court proceeded to nullify DAO 08-2002 and enjoined applications for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of any GMOs until a new administrative order is adopted.  Page 102.