Illegal Bt brinjal cultivation in Haryana

Days after two laboratories confirmed illegal Bt brinjal cultivation in Haryana, Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan has received a legal notice on the government's failure to curb commercial farming of the genetically modified eggplants.

 The notice – sent by Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan – comes in the wake of two sets of independent tests confirming presence of genetically engineered Bt brinjal in the fields of at least one farmer in the Fatehabad district of Haryana.

The tests were carried out by a government laboratory on the request of the Haryana agriculture department as well as by a private institute that was approached by the activists, who first suspected the illegal farming and alerted the administration.

Rajinder Chaudhary of Kudrati Kheti Abhiyan first picked up the sample in late April and conducted the preliminary tests using the “lateral flow strip” method. He got suspicious when he was told by other farmers about a particular field where brinjals were immune to fruit and shoot borer attack.

The tests returned positive for the Bt Cry1AC gene.

Since the “lateral flow strip” method was not a confirmatory test, Chaudhary sent samples to the Ahmedabad-based SGS Pvt Limited – a laboratory accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories.

On May 8, the laboratory confirmed the brinjal samples as GMO produced.

Chaudhary had informed the Haryana agriculture department, which picked up the samples from the same field and sent it for testing at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Delhi – one of the institutes under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.

The NBPGR has reportedly confirmed the brinjals as genetically modified, though its report has not yet been made public.

Bhushan asked Vardhan not only to "uproot and destroy planted Bt brinjal in farms and seedlings in nurseries" but also to "ascertain the supply chain - from seed developers to intermediaries - who are involved and what is the origin of the seed supply?"

The genetically modified brinjal, developed by Mahyco, has a chequered history in India. In 2009, its commercial release was approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee under the environment ministry, but then Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stopped its release in February 2010 and put an indefinite moratorium.

Three years later, four varieties of Bangladeshi Bt brinjal, developed by the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute in collaboration with Mahyco, was approved by the neighbouring country for commercial release.

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