What is BT Brinjal?

Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal, popularly known as BT brinjal, is a genetically modified strain of the non-GM Brinjal created by India’s Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto and claims to improve the yields multi-fold and also help the agricultural sector.  It is created by inserting a gene from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensishence the BT – is capable of resisting several insect pests and could reduce the use of pesticide. Researchers, environmentalists, scientists and Environmental Organizations like Greenpeace have for the last year been trying to stop the manufacture of this “ninja brinjal.”

Some Latest Happenings Surrounding the “Famous” BT Brinjal

Right now the BT brinjal is in the middle of an environmental and health controversy in India. Following the mass farmer suicides over the failure of the BT cotton crop many states have been against the use and production of this Brinjal. But the Centre was still adamant on going ahead with manufacture, as it would accelerate yield and will shorten growth time of the crop. Union Environmental Minister, Jairam Ramesh has finally relented and said, said there was ‘no over-riding urgency to introduce BT Brinjal in India’.

Scientists, activists and NGOs have welcomed the decision of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to delay the commercialisation of BT brinjal. Even Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco), which created the genetically modified vegetable, said it respects the verdict. The government has decided to impose a moratorium on the cultivation of BT brinjal till independent scientific studies establish the safety of the product on health and environment.

Terming Jairam Ramesh’s step as a correct one, agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan said that meanwhile the apprehensions of public, states and scientists can be cleared and a regulatory mechanism can be developed to inspire public confidence and remove fears about BT brinjal. Sunita Narain, director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) supported the verdict and said that their organisation have voiced its concerns time and again. She further said that they are not against the usage of genetically modified technology to improve the crop yield, however, they firmly oppose the introduction of BT brinjal.

The government has decided to impose the commercialisation of Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) brinjal and put a “moratorium” on it until its safety impacts on human health and the environment can be established with the help of long-term scientific studies.

The Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that there was “no hurry” and “no over-riding food security issues” related to BT brinjal worthy of any urgency. Though BT brinjal was cleared for commercialisation by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a statutory body, in October last year, however, an outburst over the safety aspects of genetically modified food led the government to reassess the GEAC’s decision. Mr. Ramesh started public consultations over this issue across seven cities in January, which finally ended on 6 February, 2010. Thirteen states, including some of the main brinjal producing states, disapproved commercialisation. Green Revolution scientist M S Swaminathan termed it as “a step in the right direction”. The minister also said that it was not an easy decision to make as he had to keep a balance between the producer and the consumer, Centre and States and science and society in general. He suggested that in the interim the long term consequences of GM brinjal on the environment and human health should be independently reviewed.

Mr. Jairam Ramesh also stated that a moratorium connotes refusal on this BT brinjal case for the time being and does not imply consequent acceptance. During this moratorium period, it is envisaged that the GEAC will take follow-up steps on the matter of further tests and studies. The environment ministry would like GEAC to interact with all the institutions, civil society groups, NGOs and scientists who had submitted representations.

The Environment Minister had consulted Mr. M S Swaminathan before deciding upon his recommendation and stated that the agriculture scientist has agreed on the viewpoint that since brinjal contains natural toxins hence it is essential to be extra vigilant with the BT technology. Mr. Swaminathan opines that there is no hurry in approving the BT brinjal as he feels that it is important to build confidence in public who are doubtful about the crop. It is essential to first gain public acceptance, conduct bio-tests and study its toxicity before releasing the crop. He also states that we need to ensure that the introduction of the BT brinjal does not damage the traditional varieties of brinjal.

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