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Historic Supreme Court Ruling Bans GMO Crop Trials in Philippines

Food
Historic Supreme Court Ruling Bans GMO Crop Trials in Philippines

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has ordered a permanent ban on field trials of GMO eggplant and a temporary halt on approving applications for the “contained use, import, commercialization and propagation” of GMO crops, including the import of GMO products.

The court ruled in favor 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.

Victory by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and fellow court petitioners. Photo credit: Greenpeace

“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 and includes the highly controversial GMO 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 performance.

The Supreme Court decision sets a global precedent as it is the first legal decision on GMO 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 GMO 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.

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.

The Supreme Court 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 calls on the Philippines government to support ecological agriculture policies, investments and funding.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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