Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal, popularly known as Bt brinjal, is at the centre of a major controversy in India.
Bt brinjal, a genetically modified strain created by India's number one seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto, claims to improve yields and help the agriculture sector.
However, the debate over the safety of Bt brinjal continues with mixed views from scientists working for the government, farmers and environment activists.
Why should I be aware of this?
GM technology, in which a gene is transferred from a different species to imbibe a desirable trait, is touted as a long-term solution to the problems of pests, hunger, drought and even climate change. Though the technology warrants serious consideration, the uproar over Bt brinjal has served to highlight a trust deficit in the regulatory system created under statutory rules framed in 1989.
- India is the largest producer of brinjal in the world. Brinjal is the second highest consumed vegetable and important cash crop in India.
- Indian farmers produce a quarter of the world’s brinjal (i.e. 1.4 million small & marginal farmers produce 8-9 mn. tons of brinjal on 550,000 hectares out of 32 mn. tons on 2 mn. hectares globally)
- The Fruit & Shoot Borer (FSB) pest causes up to 60-70% of losses to brinjal farmers & production in India even after repeated insecticide sprays
- Farmers use 25-80 rounds of pesticides during each growing season to control FSB infestation. In addition to health implications, experts estimate the financial loss to the country owing to the 50-70% of damage caused by the fruit & shoot borer is approx. Rs. 1,000 crores per annum.
Supporters of Bt Brinjals opine that Bt Brinjal wiht its inbuilt protection system can help farmers protect their crops and enhance consumers choice to buy non infested, undamaged, god quality and more affordable brinjal.
All about Bt Brinjal
Bt brinjal is genetically modified variety of brinjal which gives more resistant to Brinjal plant against insects.
In technical terms Bt Brinjal is a transgenic brinjal created by inserting a gene [Cry 1Ac] from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (and hence the name Bt) into Brinjal. The insertion of the gene into the Brinjal cell in young cotyledons has been done through an Agro bacterium-mediated vector, along with other genes like promoters, markers etc.
This genetic insertion is said to give the Brinjal plant resistance against lepidopteron insects. It is reported that upon ingestion of the Bt toxin by the insect, there would be disruption of digestive processes, ultimately resulting in the death of the
Environment activists says the effect of GM foods (genetically modified) on rats have shown to be fatal for lungs and kidneys. It is dangerous to introduce these experimental foods into the market without proper research, they say.
A study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini says the tests conducted by Mahyco, the company producing Bt brinjal, were simply not valid and raised serious health concerns.
Besides the environment hazards, activists allege that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has shown a bias towards companies like the Monsanto.
This would be a big threat to India's agriculture with MNCs charging Indian farmers for their seeds. The supply of seeds will be regulated and thus costlier. Indian farmers would have to depend on MNCs for seeds.
Bt cotton has already been declared a farce with crop failures and mass suicides of farmers in India. What will be the fate of Indian agriculture, farmers and consumers if Bt brinjal and other genetically modified crops are introduced.
Several studies on Bt crops in particular and GM crops in general show that there are many potential health hazards in foods bio-engineered in this manner. GM-fed animals in various studies have shown that there are problems with growth, organ development and damage, immune responsiveness and so on.
With Bt crops, a recent study from Madhya Pradesh in India shows adverse human health impacts in farm and factory workers with allergies caused by Bt Cotton. Itching skin, eruptions on the body, swollen faces etc., were also reported, correlated with levels of exposure to Bt Cotton.
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