Illegal cultivation of Bt brinjal suspected in Haryana

Bt and non-Bt brinjal and the corresponding test strips displayed

Are Bt brinjals being farmed in India in violation of the law? Farmers' outfits on Thursday presented evidence on what they suspect is the illegal cultivation of genetically modified eggplantss in at least in one plot in the Fatehabad district of Haryana.

Preliminary tests conducted on the samples collected from the half-an acre field show that the brinjals are genetically modified.

“We have sent the samples to a private laboratory for confirmatory tests. We have also informed the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and Haryana Agriculture Department. The state department said it would look into the matter,” said Rajinder Chaudhary, a former professor of economics at MD University, Rohtak and advisor to Kudrati Kheti Abhiyan, a non-governmental organisation.

The tip-off was received from a farmer, who knew about this particular field where there is no infestation of fruit and shoot borer – a common pest. This is the second consecutive year of Bt brinjal cultivation for the Haryana farmer, whose identity has not been disclosed.

The GM eggplant produces its own pesticide to thwart pest attack and this helps farmers save a lot of money on the pesticides.

Chaudhary said he would share the location details of the standing Bt brinjal crop to the GEAC, if the regulatory agency decides to investigate the matter.

In February 2010 Indian government put an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal's commercial release, following intense protests from non-governmental organisations and a section of scientists, who opposed the entry of a genetically-modified food crop in India.

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

“Source of the Bt seed is unknown to the Haryana farmer, who was delivered the saplings at a bus stop by an agent. The farmer was not given access to the nursery too. Such secrecy reminds me of large scale illegal cultivation of Bt cotton in Gujarat before the GEAC approved the genetically engineered cotton varieties in 2002 for commercial release,” said Kapil Shah from Jatan, a Gujarat-based NGO.

In his complaint to the GEAC, Chaudhary said preliminary “lateral flow strip tests” conducted using a kit developed by DesiGen showed positive results of the suspected samples being transgenic with Bt Cry1AC gene. A sample has also been sent to the GEAC by post for tests.

“The strip test, however, is only 80% correct. That's why we submitted the samples to another laboratory for confirmatory DNA test,” he said, refusing to disclose the name of the laboratory which will carry out the tests.

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