BT BRINJAL: AN ACTIVIST DESIGNED IMBROGLIO
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by C Kameswara Ra
On October 15, 2009, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved Bt brinjal for commercialization, considering it safe for human consumption and ready to be made available to farmers, basing on protracted product and biosecurity evaluation and its review by two Expert Committees (2007, 2009).
3.1 Why do we need Bt brinjal?
In India alone, 25 million farmers cultivate brinjal on over 5.5 lakh hectares with an annual production of about 8.5 million tonnes, next to China, the top producer (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009). Most of these are small farmers.
The objective of developing Bt brinjal hybrids and varieties is to control the damage caused by the stem and fruit borers (SFB) of brinjal. Shoot damage severely restricts flower and fruit production and fruit damage drastically reduces marketability of the produce. Even after continuous and very heavy insecticide application, the yield. SFBs affect 50 to 70 per cent of the crop yield annually, the damage starting from the nursery and carried to the next crop (Choudhary and Gaur, 2009). Even excessive external application of insecticides does not much help as the pest is deep in the stem and fruit tissues. The Cry1Ac gene in Bt brinjal imparts an inbuilt systemic tolerance to the pests, particularly Leucinodes orbonalis. Helicoverpa armigera (American bollworm), the major pest on cotton which is controlled by Cry1Ac gene, also affects brinjal fruit. The Bt brinjal effectively resists both these pests resulting in diverse benefits to the farmer, consumer and the country, more particularly vastly enhanced produce recovery and the avoidable use and exposure to pesticides and their residues.
3.7 Do not create a brinjal Robin Hood
For about a decade the Government failed in taking suitable action against the illegal Bt cotton in Gujarat which is still widely cultivated there. Farmers with the help of some scientists have developed several preferred varieties of illegal Bt cotton widely grown in Gujarat and also in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, as the farmers are happy with it. The scientist behind illegal Bt cotton, that came to be cultivated even before the legal Bt cotton, is hailed as (cotton) Robin Hood.
There is now a talk of illegal herbicide tolerant cotton and a herbicide and pest tolerant gene stacked cotton being cultivated in Gujarat and a virus resistant GE papaya in some parts of the country, all of which need to be verified and controlled if true.
If the commercialization of Bt brinjal is delayed and if the farmer prefers it, Bt brinjal would be clandestinely cultivated, creating a brinjal Robin Hood. Once this happens, no control will be possible later on, as it happened with illegal Bt cotton.
Persistent activism against GE crops in India is leading to a serious and unfortunate situation where any GE crop can be released for cultivation provided the developers do not say so, and in the process save enormous amounts of time and money by bypassing the regulatory regime, also benefitting farmers and consumers. Let us not promote this tendency.
3.8 Responsibility of the media
The Indian media seem to regard only the macabre as newsworthy since they believe that ‘facts are not news’. They so readily publish all absurd anti-tech statements and hardly give any space to the pro-tech opinions, branding the authors as on industry’s payroll. The media should verify the veracity of what is being fed to them by the activists.
4. SUPPORT BT BRINJAL
Consider all evidence available and if you are convinced of the efficacy and safety of Bt brinjal, communicate with the MoEF, in support of it. Those who would like to write to the Shree Jairam Ramesh, the MoEF, can do so by post (Minister of State (Independent charge), Ministry of Environment & Forests, Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi - 110003, India, or by fax ( +91-11-24362222) or by e-mail (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) or post your comments via MoEF’s website (http://moef.nic.in/modules/contact-ministry/contact-ministry/ ) before December 31, 2009.