GM food in India - scientific concerns
2.GM brinjal: scientific concerns
EXTRACT: "The two experiments done to check allergenicity and toxicity for BT brinjal are grossly inadequate." (ITEM 1)
"Data on field trial results were not properly and statistically analysed." (ITEM 2)
1.Is India ready for genetically modified food?
CNN-IBN, May 19 2008
New Delhi: Debate over the genetically modified food has been raised time and again.
The question that surfaces is whether India is ready for genetically modified food in India.
Experts say the systems to monitor and test GM food are grossly inadequate in India. However, if granted approval by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Bt brinjal [eggplant/aubergine] would be the first genetically modified vegetable anywhere in the world.
"India is ignoring the precautionary principle," says activist, Greenpeace, Rajesh Krishnan.
However, these are not the only issues and it is not just activists who are protesting. Dr Pushpa Bhargava, who is special invitee by the Supreme Court to the GEAC to lend transparency to the functioning, has shot off a stinging letter to the GEAC. The letter says, "There is enormous evidence which calls for a total review of India's experience with Bt cotton."
"The two experiments done to check allergenicity and toxicity for BT brinjal are grossly inadequate."
The letter also says, "One may, therefore, ask if all these tests and analysis have been done for Bt Brinjal and Bt Okra. This would need a highly specialized and reliable laboratory and it is not safe to permit any open field trial of any transgenic food material."
"Have we invested in monitoring mechanisms? The answer is no," says Secretary, Department of Bio Technology, Dr. MK Bahn.
Concerns regarding GM food have been growing the world over and almost 182 countries have declared themselves GM free.
"They tested the Mon863 corn, fed rats with corn and discovered problems in the liver and kidney of rats," says Greenpeace activist, Rajesh Krishnan.
However, the Department of Bio-technology is unfazed. "We are in favour of Genetically Modified food," says minister, Kapil Sibal.
Bt brinjal is the first in the line in a long list of food crop. However, Bt okra and Bt rice are likely to follow.
2. GM brinjal
Business Line, May 22 2008
This refers to the editorial "Bt brinjal on trial" (Business Line, May 19). There are certain scientific facts concerning the subject, which are mentioned here. There is a Public Interest Litigation on genetically modified (GM) crops currently before the Supreme Court. In September 2006, the former Chief Justice of India, Mr Sabharval, passed an order that the entire issue of the GM crops should be examined by "competent, knowledgeable and committed independent scientists".
In response to the above order, a five-member independent expert committee was set up in mid-September 2006. The panel had two leading toxicologists from the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, an eminent entomologist, the former Director of the Tobacco Research Institute, Rajahmundry, a well-known economist, who was a former Dean, and a renowned plant physiologist. The Chairman himself is an international authority on soils and agronomy.
The task of the independent expert committee was to critically examine the data of the field trials on Bt brinjal conducted by the Indian subsidiary of the MNC involved in the propagation of Bt brinjal. The expert committee found several instances where the bio-safety norms, prescribed by the Department of Biotechnology, were not followed and recommended that the entire question of Bt brinjal should be re-examined.
Data on field trial results were not properly and statistically analysed.
Surprisingly, despite these observations, sporadic trials have been going on in India, in particular in Tamil Nadu. The official report of the committee was submitted to the Supreme Court in mid-October, 2006.
There is no attempt to "torpedo" genuine science. At the same time, one must be very wary when it comes to biotechnology. Whether it be Bt cotton or Bt brinjal, one is playing around with just a single gene.
There is also an enormous lack of knowledge as to what happens in a soil system when a Bt crop is grown.
The comparison between Bt cotton and Bt brinjal is both irrelevant and misconceived. It is well worth remembering that the Bt toxin (originating from the soil-borne bacterium Bacillus thurengiensis) is as potent as the cholera toxin.
Would the brinjal-lovers of India, the crop being one of the most popular vegetables in the country, having originated in the Indian sub continent, risk poisoning the next time they savour the mouth-watering kathirikkai poriyal or baingan ki bharta?
K. P. Prabhakaran Nair e-mail