The questions about GM technology that are relevant to consumer safety, whether they be farmers or average consumers are the concern of consumer organizations like VOICE. The very first one of these is: Are genetically modified crops safe to consume , especially on a daily basis? Are the current sources of research available for ready reference about the viability of GM foods, trustworthy? In the absence of labelling how are consumers to choose between GM and the indigenous varieties? Is it even possible to label hundreds of varieties of seasonal vegetables available in the unorganized sector? and the most vital one: why brinjal of all the vegetables, which is not only indigenous to India but currently, around 2500 varieties are grown across the country. Brinjal is second only to the potato in terms of the total quantity produced.
What is Bt Brinjal?
Bt Brinjal is created by inserting a gene from bacteria into Brinjal.
Controversy of Bt Brinjal:
This is said to give the Brinjal plant and the brinjal itself, an effective built-in protection against Shoot Borer. These are factors which can be addressed through more conventional means while concerns about possible adverse impact on human health, bio-safety of consumers, biodiversity of nature and livelihoods of farmers remain unanswered by the current hype about the product.
Another area of concern is that as a general rule Genetically Modified (GM) crops should not be cultivated in the place of its origin, as it could lead to the loss of original varieties by cross pollination with GM varieties. For brinjal India is the country of origin.
Entry & Exit of Bt Brinjal:
Genetically Modified (GM) Bt Brinjal was developed by Maharastra Hybrid Seed Company Ltd. (Mahyco). Monsanto, a USA company has 26% stake in Mahyco. All the currently available information is produced by these MNCs. On October 14th, 2009 The Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC) gave its observations on Bt Brinjal in following terms: “..as this decision of the GEAC has very important policy implication at the national level, the GEAC decided its recommendation for environmental release may be put up to the Government for taking final view on the matter.” Complete Report was uploaded on the Ministry website for public comments up to December 31, 2009. During January and February 2010 Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State (Independent In Charge) of Environment and Forests held consultations in different locations with scientists, agriculture experts, farmers organizations, consumer groups and NGOs.
On February 9th, 2010 Minister imposed a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal, theme of his decision is as follows:
India isn’t the first country to ban the use of genetically modified foods. In 2008, Monsanto lost an appeal in French courts against a ban on GM corn.
It is my duty to adopt a caunous, precaunonary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt-brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.
In May 2001, Sri Lanka also banned the importation of genetically modified foods. Regulations in Italy, Greece, France, Denmark and Luxembourg have enforced de facto moratoriums on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), while other countries in the European Union have limited GMO field testing, imports and marketing.
Codex Alimentarius “Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant – DNA Plants” says “The location of trial sites should be representative of the range of environmental conditions under which the plant varieties would be expected to be grown. The number of trial sites should be sufficient to allow accurate assessment of compositional characteristics over this range. Similarly, trials should be conducted over a sufficient number of generations to allow adequate exposure to the variety of conditions met in nature. To minimize environmental effects, and to reduce any effect from naturally–occurring genotypic variation within a crop variety, each trial site should be replicated. An adequate number of plants should be sampled and the methods of analysis should be sufficiently sensitive and specific to detect variations in key components.”
It appears that the current standards by which the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC) has formulated the decision to approve Bt-brinjal do not match Codex norms. India is a member country of Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Consumer VOICE supports the moratorium on Bt brinjal for reasons of consumer and environmental safety and health.