Sucheta Dalal :BT brinjal cooks up a row over possible health hazards
Sucheta Dalal

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BT brinjal cooks up a row over possible health hazards  

October 26, 2009


The BT brinjal row is heating up. Farmers, consumers, environmentalists and food experts and a few biotechnologists are against the introduction of BT brinjal. The agriculture ministry and regulators and a few other research experts, however, are in favour of introducing this genetically modified food crop.


Greenpeace, the global environmental activist group, has also expressed its shock over the Centre’s BT brinjal approval, when informed scientists and citizens of the country have raised serious concerns on the nature of the safety studies. For food products, long-term health safety, produce yields, nutrient values, retention and life cycle of pesticides has to be looked into.


Greenpeace also said that the Centre’s decision will open the floodgates for all the other genetically modified 56 crops—including 40 other food crops—which are presently under various stages of approval.


Agriculture experts have protested strongly against the approval given to Bt brinjal by the biotechnology regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee.


An agriculture ministry official has said that they would not ‘blindly oppose’ the introduction of Bt brinjal. Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for environment and forests, has said that the final decision was not taken under the influence of any company or NGO.


Seven years back, a similar dispute over GM cotton had rocked the nation. But cotton is a non-food product whereas brinjal is a food product.


The Rs 8,500 crore brinjal industry has favoured the introduction of BT brinjal. However, the Kerala Bio-diversity Board has also opposed the Centre’s move to bring Bt brinjal into the country saying that it could destroy the ecosystem and could throw up health hazards. It has strongly argued that GM food will not produce high yield.


The GM food companies are strongly arguing against loss of productivity due to introduction of this crop.  In normal brinjal, loss of productivity may happen because of pest infection and spoilage in crops. With annual consumption of 84,50,200 tonnes of brinjal produced over 5,50,000 hectares, it is expected that 18% of this product amounting to Rs 1,520 crore will be wasted in non-modified brinjal. If BT brinjal is introduced, then this loss may come down. Efficient use of pesticides—381 grams per hectare worth Rs 800 crore—could save produce of Rs 720 crore. Besides this, without the genetically modified crop, the fruit and short borer pest can decrease yield by as much as 70%. 

-Dhruv Rathi [email protected]

-- Sucheta Dalal