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Issue 22
February , 2010
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To Bt or Not to Bt

Source: From Editor's Desk, Date: February , 2010


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 including chronic 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 its approval to Bt Brinjal on October 14, last year.



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 Standards Authority.



Bt 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.



Whichever 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.