Press article exposes multiple inconsistencies in claims about GM crop

Though the cultivation of GM Bt brinjals has failed for two consecutive years, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has announced that it will apply for the release of three more Bt brinjal varieties for the upcoming season.
The level of self-contradiction from BARI that’s exposed in the article below is extraordinary. It suggests that it is not remotely concerned with accuracy. In fact, BARI seems to have just as cavalier an attitude to the truth as it has shown to biosafety requirements.
Yet BARI was a key source for the BBC Panorama programme, GM Food: Cultivating Fear, part of which was filmed in Bangladesh, where BARI seems to have been the programme makers’ principal guide to the Bt brinjal field trials.
When we add this together with the fact that BARI is working in tandem with the Cornell Alliance for Science (set up to propagandize GM crops) and Mark Lynas, who stands accused of fabricating a story about the Bt brinjal trials, it becomes clear that Panorama could not have relied on more unreliable sources for the content of its controversial programme.

Despite failure, BARI going to release more Bt brinjal varieties

New Age (Bangladesh), 28 July 2015

Though the cultivation of four varieties of genetically engineered Bt Brinjals has turned out to be a failure at farmers’ level across the country for two consecutive years, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute has announced that they will apply for the release of three more Bt Brinjal varieties for the upcoming Robi (October-March) season, reports United News of Bangladesh.

The announcement came at a press conference, titled ‘Press Conference on Success of Bt Brinjal Cultivation’, organised by BARI at Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council conference room on Tuesday.

Reading out a written statement at the press conference, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol said they will soon apply for the release of the genetically engineered Bt versions of three local varieties — Shingnath, Dohazari and Khatkhatia.

BARI will release the new Bt Brinjal varieties in addition to the already released four varieties among 200 farmers across the districts in the next Robi season, he added.

About the performance of the already released four Bt Brinjal varieties in the current season (from November last till date) the BARI director general said among the Bt Brinjal plots of 108 farmers across 19 districts in the country, ‘shoot and fruit borer infestation was not observed anywhere’.

However, contradicting the claim in the same statement, he said, ‘In cases where shoot and fruit borer infestations in Bt Brinjals were 0-0.05 percent and 0.04-0.88 percent respectively, the infestations in non-Bt Brinjals were 30-40 percent and 48-57 percent.’

Later, in a slide-show presentation, he came up with another figure that the highest infestation of shoot and fruit borer was 0.3 percent and 3.12 percent respectively.

During a question-answer session, he also noted that the acceptable limit of fruit borer in the Bt Brinjal varieties would be 5 percent.

Meanwhile, in his statement, BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol also claimed that BARI Bt Begun-1, BARI Bt Begun-2, BARI Bt Begun-3 and BARI Bt Begun-4 had come up with 66 percent, 68 percent, 40 percent and 100 percent higher yields respectively compared to their local counterparts — namely Uttara, Nayantara, Kajla, ISD 006.

This claim creates a stark contrast to the claim of a UNB report on the state of Bt Brinjal cultivation across the country, published earlier on March 22.

The report, titled ‘Bt brinjal turns out to be ‘upset case’ for farmers’, which was based on spot visits on 12 Bt Brinjal fields in Manikganj, Narsigndi and Comilla districts, and on telephone conversation with 20 more farmers in other districts, said, ‘The cultivation of genetically engineered Bt Brinjal in the country’s several districts has cost the farmers their fortunes again this year as the plants have either died out prematurely or fruited very insignificantly compared to the locally available varieties.’

The report quoted Md Abul Hayat, a farmer of Dhanua village in Narsingdi, as saying, ‘Most of the saplings (of Bt Brinjal) have died. The plants are prone to diseases. The officials said it’s due to bacterial attack and prompted by irrigation and soil-type.’

‘If irrigation and soil-type had been a problem, why the local brinjal plants on my other field had not been affected?’ he questioned.

‘One can’t believe that just one month ago, the plants on my field (Bt Brinjal) were most good looking ones among all the brinjal fields in Shibpur. They (officials) came to my field and took photos and videos of the plants at that time,’ Hayat said.

When the concerns of Abul Hayet and other Bt Brinjal farmers who faced immense loss cultivation Bt Brinjal this season was brought before Rafiqul Islam Mondol at the press conference, he replied, ‘Some saplings died in one or places because of bacterial wilt, which is not related to the Bt (gene). Even the death rate was too minimal.’

When this reporter noted that according to a BARI rejoinder that was sent to UNB in connection with the above mentioned report, even up to 100 percent plants died in a field, he denied the fact categorically.

However, the BARI in a rejoinder said, ‘At Comilla, Bt Brinjal plots of Md. Ali and Dilip Kumar was affected and all the seedlings died due to heavy shower during November.’

In this point, Agriculture Ministry additional director Dr Anwar Farooq, who was also present at the press conference, said, ‘There might have been failure in some cases due to wrong management. We’ll scrutinise the allegations (of crop failure) later.’

Asked whether Lal Teer Seed Ltd, a private seed company which has also been developing some hybrid Bt Brinjal varieties in collaboration with Indian company Mahyco, a subsidiary of United States-based agrochemical company Monsanto, under the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project II, Anwar Farooq said, ‘It’ll be decided by the biosafety committee (National Committee on Biosafety) when they’ll (Lal Teer) apply for the release.’

Mentionable, Monsanto is the IPR (intellectual property rights) holder of the ‘Cry1Ac gene’ that was inserted in BARI’s Bt Brinjal varieties. BARI has released their Bt Brinjal varieties for limited cultivation under the ABSP II that also involves United States-based Cornell University as the lead agency for the Bt Brinjal component.

Speaking at the press conference, Cornell University scientist Frank A Shotkoski, noted that the ABSP II project is based on a public-private partnership module and if any company goes for commercial release, ‘that’s their business’. Earlier on May 7, 2014, national daily New Age published a report, titled ‘BT brinjal farming ruins Gazipur farmers’, claiming that most of the 20 farmers who were provided Bt Brinjal saplings in the first season of its limited cultivation faced huge losses.

The report said BARI director general Rafiqul Islam Mondol in response to a quarry ‘said the institute provided 20 farmers with Bt brinjal saplings and 13 of the fields saw no success’.