Are you going to consume the poisonous Bt Brinjal?
Do you know that the toxic Bt Brinjal (a genetically engineered food
crop) has been approved by the regulatory authority the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC)? Do you know that in another
three months or so the Government of India too may approve it? And
then this highly toxic vegetable will be on your plate, ready to be
What is Bt Brinjal?
What is Bt Brinjal? Why is it toxic? Why are concerned citizen from
the world over protesting against it? Why are countries unwilling to
deal with such crop? Majority of countries around the world have not
Bt Brinjal is a Genetically Engineered (GE) crop which has been
engineered at the genetic level. A toxin producing gene from the soil
bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) has been inserted into the
genome of the plant. This is to make the entire plant, including the
fruit, toxic so that a pest called fruit and stem borer dies on
consuming the plant.
The brinjal plant is now toxic for the pest. Is it toxic for the human
beings who consume it? You will be alarmed to know that the GE
vegetable could be highly toxic for both animals and humans. Another
crop with the same technology is now being cultivated in many parts of
India and that is Bt Cotton. It is being illegally cultivated in
Orissa even though the Government of Orissa has not yet given
permission for Bt Cotton cultivation.
All over India in cotton growing areas domestic animals like goat,
sheep, cows and buffaloes have fallen sick or died after grazing on Bt
Cotton fields. It is not a food crop but yet farmers and mill-workers
who have come in contact with the crop have developed severe
allergies, skin rashes, difficulty in breathing, red burning and
itching eyes etc., as per reports from the states.
Bt Brinjal is a food crop whose seeds are manufactured using the same
process as in Bt Cotton. Its seeds are being promoted for approval by
the company which has manufactured them. However the company's own
safety data and report have been scrutinized by independent scientists
who have declared on the basis of the information perused that Bt
Brinjal is unsafe for human consumption.
The study team led by Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini of Committee for
Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN),
France concluded that Bt brinjal release into the environment, for
food, feed or cultures, may present a serious risk for human and
animal health and the release should be forbidden.
Laboratory studies upon rats and mice conducted by independent
scientists have proved that animals after eating GE food have come
down with serious illnesses. The immune system is affected, there has
been stunted growth, change in size of internal organs, ulcers in
stomach, infertility etc.
The brinjal in Orissa
The inevitable risk of contamination will threaten the 100 or more
brinjal varieties in Orissa. In the state people consume a lot of the
vegetable relished in various cooking methods. It is consumed almost
daily. In land under vegetable cultivation in Orissa brinjal commands
the highest 22% share showing the popularity of the crop. It is
cultivated in all districts of the state the major districts being
Keonjhar, Kalahandi and Mayurbhanj. In India the brinjal has a 4000
year old history and some varieties are used by ayurvedic
practitioners as medicine. Allowing commercial cultivation of Brinjal
will irreversibly damage the biodiversity of the crop and make all
Do alternatives exist?
The brinjal is being made toxic to kill a pest. Are there not safer
alternatives? In Orissa the OUAT Department of Entomology has informed
through RTI that a combination of chemical and bio-pesticides called
Integrated Pest Management is able to kill the fruit and stem borer.
This is a far better alternative than Bt Brinjal.
What the experts say
Experts like Dr Pushpa M Bhargava, Founder and Former Director, Centre
for Cellular and Molecular Biology have demanded that long term
feeding studies are required. He wants ten years of testing on mice to
assess the harm done across generations. He has also rightly pointed
out that GE seeds should be considered as an option only if there are
no other alternatives.
If the Indian government approves it, Bt Brinjal will become the first
genetically engineered popular food crop to be commercially released
anywhere in the world with the toxic Bt gene in it and that too in a
country which is the centre of origin of brinjal.
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