French environmental crusaders are fighting back as India is toying with the idea of allowing genetically modified brinjals into market. An independent group†says the BT brinjals are unsafe.
The Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering has submitted to India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) that Bt brinjal's release into the environment for food and feed in India may present a serious risk for human and animal health. It has said Bt brinjal's commercial release should be forbidden.
Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini's analysis of Mahyco's Bt brinjal biosafety data says that the Bt brinjal produces a protein which can induce resistance to kanamycin, a well-known antibiotic, which could be a major health problem. The analysis was commissioned by Greenpeace.
While pointing out in his analysis that Bt brinjal had not been properly tested from the safety and environmental point of view, Professor Seralini observed that in feeding trials significant differences were noted compared to the best corresponding non-Bt controls.
For instance, in goats fed with this GMO, the prothrombin (time it takes for blood to clot) was modified, in rabbits less consumption was noted, in cow's milk production and composition was changed, GM-fed rats had diarrhoea, higher water consumption and liver weight decrease, in broiler chickens feed intake was modified and in fish, average feed conversion and efficiency ratios were changed. "All this makes a very coherent picture of Bt brinjal that is potentially unsafe for human consumption. It will also potentially be unsafe to eat animals with these problems, having eaten GMOs," he said.
Besides, the professor's analysis noted that the longest toxicity tests which were for only 90 days did not assess whole safety of the food or feed that could be eaten during the entire lifetime, and long-term effects like development of tumours or cancers. He observed that several differences that were found between the study and the (closest) control groups in the Bt Brinjal bio-safety tests were not reported in the summaries of Mahyco's test reports and statistically significant differences that were reported were discounted, Gargi Parsai reported for The Hindu.
Commenting on the secrecy on "confidential" raw data for toxicity for GMOs, Prof. Seralini said it had no scientific basis and created doubts in people's minds.
Asked to comment on the analysis, M.K. Sharma of Mahyco said he had not seen the analysis but all toxicology tests were conducted not only by Mahyco but by reputed government institutions.
"All the tests for GM crops in India are conducted under controlled supervision. The Bt brinjal has a long line of clearance and approval from various departments - if we are convinced by the tests that will be reviewed later this month, it may be introduced in a year's time," GEAC Director B.S. Parashera told IANS recently.
After Bt brinjal, there are 25 kinds of rice, 23 kinds of tomatoes, many types of groundnut, pigeon peas, potato, mustard, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting GEAC approval.
All these GM crops were in the testing stage and "will require approval from GEAC, then the ministry for agriculture, before they can be commercialised for mass-scale production," Parashera said. GEAC works under the Environment ministry.
Explaining what exactly happens when crops are genetically modified, the GEAC chief said: "In GM foods, the seeds are made with genetic enhancement to become resistant to pests and bugs - we work in this area to solve the bigger problems - reduce use of chemical pesticides and fertiliser for environment-friendly options. We also make seeds available at affordable prices to farmers."
But a recent report by international NGO Greenpeace - called "Genetic Gamble - Safe food the end of choice?" - says there is still no evidence that GM food is safe, though the budget for genetically engineered food research has increased by 250 percent since 2005.
"In all likelihood Bt brinjal will be launched with no label and we and our families will have no choice but to become lab rats in this grand genetic experiment," Greenpeace campaigner Jai Krishna told IANS.
Rajesh Krishnan, who helped compile the Greenpeace report, said: "If launched in the Indian markets, these Bt brinjals could spell disaster. The results of the tests carried out by the government must be made available for public scrutiny."
Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, all countries in the European Union and many in Africa have either banned the entry of GM foods or have imposed strict restrictions on their commercial use.