For farmer's sake, give Bt Brinjal a fair chance
A controversy has been raging for a while in India over Bt Brinjal, a genetically engineered variety of brinjal introduced by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco.) Bt Brinjal contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a common soil-dwelling bacterium, that helps produce a protein that is toxic to pests like Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera.)
According to proponents of Bt Brinjal, the transgenic variety will provide resistance against pests in an environmentally friendly manner and improve productivity. However, there were concerns regarding its impact on the environment and health.
To address these concerns, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Government of India and declared in October 2009 after a scientific study that Bt Brinjal is safe for consumption and that it will have no adverse effects on the environment.
Bt Brinjal is to get approval for commerical cultivation from the Government of India this month. There have been protests from various organizations against the same
I had made a case for Bt Brinjal over at Merinews.com
First of all, it is important to realize that as the world's population grows and the extent of arable land decreases, the only way of ensuring food for all is by increasing productivity.
Though India is self sufficient in food production, many Indians suffer malnutrition, poverty and are susceptible to environmental vagaries such as drought and floods. Much of it has to do with our agricultural productivity, which is among the lowest in the world.
The need to increase agricultural productivity is clear and cannot be challenged. We must use whatever means available to improve productivity, while keeping environmental concerns in mind.
Bt Brinjal must be promoted in India because it promises to reduce wastage due to pests. As it minimizes the need for chemical pesticide, Bt Brinjal is also environment friendly. The rupees saved by removing the need for pesticide could be used for other purposes. An overall increase in productivity and greater profit is the result.
However, in light of various criticisms that Bt Brinjal is toxic, that it is a source of genetic pollution, that it is a way for multinational corporations to make huge profits at farmers' expense, the introduction of Bt Brinjal must take place only after these criticisms are addressed.
One must steer clear of absolutist positions on the issue. At one extreme are those who have deep mistrust towards modern technology and multinational corporations, and cloak their criticism in scientific sounding language and propagate scientific inaccuracies about genetically modified food. At the other extreme are those who advocate large scale introduction of Bt Brinjal without regard to the possibility of harmful environmental effects. Both these extremes must be avoided.
As research stands today, the truth is somewhere in between. Genetically modified foods have been around since 1985 with no major impact on environment or health. The best way forward is to continuously research and track the effects of GM foods on the environment and health, if any are discovered.
Brinjals grown with Bt Brinjal seeds must also be labelled "genetically modified food" as the consumer deserves to make an informed choice, if he/she is apprehensive about the impact of Bt Brinjal on health.
Last but not the least, it is the Indian farmer who must have the ultimate say on whether he wants to grow Bt Brinjal or not. If he feels that Bt Brinjal is harmful, he reserves the right not to grow it. However, if another farmer feels that Bt Brinjal helps him improve productivity, it may be a violation of rights and unethical for anybody to stop him from growing it (except where it harms the environment), as it is his livelihood that is at stake.