BT brinjal safe for consumption

BT brinjal safe for consumption

Bt brinjal declared safe

India is all set to commercialise its first ever genetically-modified (GM) food crop — Bt brinjal — as the country’s highest biotechnology regulatory authority on Wednesday declared the crop safe to be released in the environment.

“The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the Union Environment Ministry, has cleared the introduction of Bt brinjal,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said. The government will formally approve the GM eggplant after discussing its scientific, bio-safety and licensing issues with stakeholders.

First crop
Once the formalities are over, Bt brinjal will become India’s first GM food crop. The genetically-engineered brinjal produces its own pesticide to tackle the most harmful pest — fruit and shoot borer.

The first GM crop — Bt cotton — was approved way back in 2002 amid stiff protests by environmentalists. But it has completely changed India’s cotton production scenario in the last few years.

“The GEAC approval of Bt brinjal has come for agro-biotech company Mahyco’s “hybrids” and “varieties” developed by the University of Agriculture Sciences in Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University in Coimbatore,” GEAC Chairman B K Parsheera told Deccan Herald.

For hybrids, seeds need to be purchased every year, whereas for varieties the same seed can be planted for two to three years with somewhat lower yield.
The varieties developed at Dharwad are Manjari Gota, Udupi Gulla, Malapur local, Kudachi local, 112-GO and Rabkavi local, which are popular in southern Maharashtra, coastal Karnataka and Kudachi and Rabkavi belts in north Karnataka and Goa.
“We have basically cleared the EE1 event, which means inserting the Cry1AC gene in brinjal with two other specific genes. That event can be used to develop varieties or hybrids for different states,” Parsheera said.

Hurdles
The transformation of brinjal began way back in 2000. But hurdles appeared when the product came to the GEAC in 2004 for environmental clearance.
Following protests by green groups, it underwent two rounds of scientific review. The first review panel was chaired by Deepak Pental, currently the vice chancellor of Delhi University.

In 2007 the GEAC ordered a second round of field trial coordinated by the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi.
Speaking to Deccan Herald, IIVR Director Mathura Rai said trial results have shown more than 80 per cent reduction in the use of pesticides and almost 25 per cent increase in yield.

The trials were conducted at 11 sites across the country under the supervision of state agriculture universities and ICAR institutes without involving any private firms.
“It is the most rigorously tested vegetable with 25 environmental biosafety studies supervised by independent and government agencies. It has the same nutritional value,” said Raju Barwale, Managing Director, Mahyco.

Critics such as Gilles Eric Seralini from the University of Caen, France, described Bt brinjal as harmful to humans and called for more tests on the lines of similar protocols followed in pharmaceutical trials before it was released commercially.

Environmentalists are up in arms against the GEAC decision. “It is a shame that regulators have put the interests of corporations over the interests of ordinary citizens,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Jairam Ramesh, however, is cut up with the NGOs who clogged his fax by sending thousands of appeals against GM brinjal.

“The NGOs have been troubling me for the last 24 hours. I strongly condemn their blackmailing approach,” he said.

Playing with nature
* GM crops are those in which genetic material (DNA) is altered
* GM food will be introduced to Indians commercially for first time
* Food experts concerned over lack of bio-safety data of such crops
* Green activists call it a shame
* These have environmental implications
* ‘Corporate interests put above citizens’’

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