BT Brinjal on the Back Burner

by Dr. Reeja Tharu on  February 10, 2010 at 3:18 PM India Special
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The humble egg plant, also known as aubergine, has been embroiled in an Indian controversy ever since its genetic modification. The brinjal debacle comprised of debates and protests by political parties and enviornmental activists. After seven public meetings and lots more of public outcry the government was forced to say "no" to BT brinjal -- at least for a while - a decision that has been defined as 'responsible to science and responsive to the society'!
BT Brinjal on the Back Burner
BT Brinjal on the Back Burner

Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal, widely known as the BT Brinjal, has been in the eye of the storm lately and has raised a lot of dust for all the right reasons. While the creators of this strain of brinjal cannot stop singing its praise, not everyone is impressed.

A genetically modified strain, the BT Brinjal was created by the Maharashtra - based India's number one seed company Mahyco along with its partner, the American Multinational global seed giant, Monsanto.

These companies claim that the new strain is designed to provide high yields, besides being pest- resistant. This, they add, would prove to be a great boon for the agricultural sector.

Except for pockets of vested interests there were not many takers for the BT Brinjal. Mixed views prevailed as politicians, scientists, environmental activists, anti-GMO groups and farmers vociferously expressed their dissent.

BT Brinjal -Technology & Health Concerns

BT Brinjal, like most genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a product of genetic engineering through DNA recombination. Here a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis has been inserted into the DNA of the Brinjal seed.This forms a chimeric DNA which produces pesticidal toxins in all the cells of the brinjal and provides pest -resistance.

Research has revealed that Genetically Modified Crops (GMCs), when fed to rats, have damaged their lungs and kidneys and have proven to be fatal. Other common side effects in rats include diarrhea, increased water consumption and allergic reactions. Ninety nine percent of modified crops produced certain types of toxins, the effect of which, on the human body, is relatively unknown. These crops have even been referred to as "bio-terror" as they can be quite dangerous.

Bio Safety activists have been challenging the safety of the GMOs and the GMCs for years.

French scientist Gilles Eric Seralini has warned that the tests conducted by Mahyco is not valid and therefore could raise serious health concerns.

Biased Regulatory Bodies

In Oct 2009 the Indian Biotechnology regulatory body --- Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) --- comprising of scientists and bureaucrats, sought the introduction of BT Brinjal which aspired to be the first genetically- modified food crop in India.

It has been alleged that the GEAC was biased towards Monsanto, as a number of tests were skipped before the regulatory body decided to wave the green flag.

We for Victory

The temporary ban imposed on BT Brinjal has proven once again that the people's mandate will prevail. Perhaps this episode, which featured public debates, will act as a precedent to other issues concerning the well being of the common man.

It will also send a message to all concerned that awareness is catching up with Indians too and that they no longer can be considered as the eastern Guinea pigs for Western experiments. Adequate reasearch must be carried out before introducing these modified products for human consumption.

The ban also means that the poor farmers of this land do not have to depend on MNCs for their seeds and that food diversity is preserved.

The decision to stall the 1st GMC cannot be seen as a war against imperialism but as a movement that stemmed from the need to be cautious, safe and principled especially in matters of public interest.

Way to go India!

Source: Medindia
Dr. Reeja Tharu/L

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