Last few days had seen the
loudest buzz around town regarding the Bt Brinjal. All kinds of people
from all walks of life have taken active interest in the issue, whichever side
of the fence they might have been. Quite interestingly, as is usually the
nature of such debates, this one did not see self-actualized fence sitters
whose ambition and role in such vehement public debate is usually one of utter
confusion and disinterest. They generally belong to the lot who would, with a
little crib and grumble in the offing, accept whatever is rolled out. After
all, whatever happens, just happens. Not for good. Not for bad. But just for
the sake of happening. But this debate certainly had and has strong contenders
on either side readily armed with activism and science to pull down the
opponent and orchestrate everything so that archenemies end up with eggplants
on their faces!
However, Sun Zhu, himself, perhaps could not
have fared better in the manner this tussle ended for the time being with
Minister of State for Environment Mr Jairam Ramesh announcing a moratorium on
Bt brinjal- the first genetically modified crop for mass production in India.
In doing so, he overruled the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)
that had approved commercial cultivation of the food crop on October 14, 2009.
The moratorium is applicable till the time independent scientific studies
establish the safety of the product and its long-term impact on human health
and environment to the satisfaction of the public and the scientist community.
The Drug Controller General of India and the Indian Council of Medical Research
had also recommended exhaustive food safety tests first. All kinds of tests
suggested by the scientists includingchronic
toxicity and multigenerational (long-term impact over a generation or two)
tests. Jairamís decision is in direct contrast to the one taken by
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the clearing house for
transgenic crops under Ministry of Environment and Forests, which granted itsapproval to Bt Brinjal on October 14, last
Green activists have
expressed concerns regarding the alleged attitude of the biotech industry to
contaminate first, regulate later. They have urged the Govt. of India to make
sure that such potential leakage or soil contamination does not happen through
genetically modified seeds entering the Indian markets. There is also a strong
call for proper labelling of GM crops on the guidelines of Food Safety and
brinjal contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium which
produces a toxin that kills the pest when it feeds on the crop. Studies across
the world on rats and mice suggest Bt crops increase allergies, antibiotic
resistance and internal organ damage. But GM researchers claim Bt would reduce
use of pesticide and control infestation of the fruit and shoot borer disease,
which affects brinjal.
school you might belong to, you should not see the whole of Bt brinjal
controversy merely as a green debate. You would be over-simplifying the issue
if you see it only in the light of food safety in India. In its rightful
manifestation this should be adjudged as one of the best examples of a unifying
force bringing together the urban elite and the rural agriculturist, the scientists
and soil tillers, the socialists and grassroot workers, in short ,everybody in
diametrically opposite regions of existence and creed.Perhaps there lies the greatest success of this anti-GM movement.