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Approval of Genetically Engineered Food Crop in India Spurs Nationwide Protest

(Beyond Pesticides, January 29, 2010) A genetically engineered (GE) variety of brinjal, or eggplant, was approved by India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) last October. As the central government decides on approval of the crop’s commercial release, farmers, environmentalists, doctors, and even several state governments have mobilized in protest.

India has already approved the commercial cultivation of GE cotton, but this would be the first genetically engineered food crop. Produced by Monsanto, the Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal is engineered to kill insects. Bt is a soil bacteria that produces compounds toxic to certain larval insects. In Bt crops, part of the bacteria’s genome has been incorporated into the plant’s genome, causing the plant to produce these same compounds. An estimated 80% of India’s cotton crop is currently grown from Bt seeds.

Concerns about the approval of Bt brinjal has lead to heated protests. While India’s central government is holding a series of public meetings this month to discuss the issue, the first of these meetings ended in a shouting match between protestors and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. The Chief Ministers of several states have also written to Mr. Ramesh urging him not to rush approval of the crop, and the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, three major brinjal producers, have already banned the crop.

Farming groups oppose the use of Bt brinjal over concerns that the crop is less tolerant than other varieties to severe climate conditions, and its cultivation could cause a loss in soil fertility. The crop may also have a lower caloric content than conventional varieties; a major concern in a nation where, according to the Global Hunger Index, 300 million people go hungry. In addition, much of the vegetables grown in India are on small farms, where measures to prevent the spread to the Bt brinjal pollen would be too expensive.

Medical groups have also voiced concern. A network of groups called Doctors for Food and Biosafety said in a statement that, “obsolete technology used in Bt Brinjal incorporating antibiotic resistant markers is likely to have disastrous implications for developing countries like India, which are struggling with communicable diseases burden.” They worry that the widespread use of a Bt food crop will endanger national programs for the control of tuberculosis, diarrhoeal and sexually transmitted diseases.

Beyond Pesticides opposes the use of genetic engineering in agriculture because of the dangers it poses to human health and the environment. The widescale adoption of GE crops has lead to a marked increase in the use of pesticides, and emerging research has linked genetically modified crops to organ damage. All the while, these crops have failed in their promise to deliver a marked increase in yield.

For more information on genetic engineering, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ program page.

Source: India GM Info.org


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