Environment : Bt Brinjal
Indian scientists, politicians and environmental actitivists remain sharply divided over the issue of allowing the genetically modified vegetable to hit the market.
Bt Brinjal is a trans-genic brinjal created by inserting a gene (Cry 1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt) into brinjal.
The insertion of the gene into the vegetable is said to give the plant resistance against insects like the brinjal fruit and shoot borer. Upon ingestion of the Bt toxin, the insect’s digestive processes are disrupted, ultimately resulting in its death.
The government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which cleared Bt Brinjal for commercial release in October, said it will reduce the farmers’ dependence on pesticides and enable higher yields.
Monsanto, the seed company , advocating the introduction of this crop has been exercising all sorts of pressure on the government. Justice Bhargava in his report submitted to the Parliamentary Committee complained against the extraordinary pressures he was subjected to support this GM crop.
All sorts of GM crops are entering the market. Certain issues stand out. We have a large variety – more than 3000 – of brinjals in India. All this rich genetic diversity will be lost in a few years if the bt brinjal is introduced. Besides the farmers who have been accustomed to produce their own seeds will be unable to do so and will have to depend on Monsanto for seeds. This will give the Company a monopoly over the seed market.
We now hear of GM potato, tomato and so on. They have not been properly tested. We do not know how far they are carcinogenic. Pesticides like endosulphan which were supposed to fight the diseases to which the cashew trees were affected has been playing havoc in Coastal Karnataka. I would like to know your views on these Genetically modified crops. How far will the help or harm Indian agriculture? What about the age old rights of the farmer to produce his own seeds? And once out native gene-banks are destroyed where would we be? Have we any right to destroy the p which has been handed down to us without passing them on to our children? GM crops are the result of gene flow from one species to another. What is the new species generates another species and that us dangerous to mankind?
This discussion is a prelude to more such discussions on Environmental studies.
In this blog I would like all of you to discuss as many GM crops as you can. Please point out the dangers of bio-pesticides and folixides ( like Dioxin) which was sprayed by American planes to destroy the thick forests . Dioxin was sprayed by planes in order to flush out the Viet Minh guerillas. The world has forced the US to clean up the mess in Vietnam. Can we force the buyers of Union Carbide to clean up Bhopal?
I should be happy if all of you work together in this blog on genetically. Modified crops, bio-pesticides, carcinogenic (cancer producing) pesticides etc.,
You should remember that a number of questions are asked on Environment both at the Prelims and the Mains.
My very first blog Blog no 1 dealt with environmental hazards. I would advise you to go to tags and click on environment. It will lead you to the blog.
11 thoughts on “100. Environment 2”
From the Edit IE 11 August 12: The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture reported recently that it was under tremendous pressure to approve Bt Brinjal by an unholy nexus between foreign companies,industry and the political class. Mr. Bhargava , the supreme Court nominee on this committee confirmed this.The Government must therefore probe into the charges and in the meanwhile halt the introdouction of GM crops.
The Parliamentary Committee Report vindicates the position taken by many state governments such as Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which have disallowed GM crops, including field trials. The fact that only 15 or 16 countries in the world allow GM food crops to be commercially cultivated shows that all is not right with GM crops. (note the States which have not allowed the introduction of GM crops)
The observations of P M Bhargava, the Supreme Court nominee on the government’s Genetically Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), that the government was reluctant to set up a lab of its own to conduct all the tests, currently done by the companies themselves, and there was pressure to approve Bt Brinjal and other crops are too serious to be brushed aside.
Even Arjula Reddy, chairman of the expert committee that approved Bt Brinjal on October 14, 2009, says he was under pressure from the industry and from a minister. The chairman of the parliamentary committee Basudev Acharia, who tabled its report in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, refused to disclose the name of the minister. The minister must be unmasked and questioned.
The argument that GM food is necessary to meet the growing requirement by 2020-’30 is fallacious. If we can increase food production five times to 255 million tonnes, we can also increase it further through alternative methods like organic farming. The committee’s recommendation that there was no need to introduce GM foods must put a stop to this whole controversy forthwith
The most common of all GM crops are the BT crops and there exist ample amount of BT crops eg. BT Cotton,Rice,Potato,Tomato and the most recently introduced Bt Brinjal.The BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria has been used as insecticide for many years, whose gene (Cry 1) is now being inserted into the gene of these crops to make them insect resistant and nullify the use of insecticide spray and claims to increase the production.
On the contrary to this the BT toxin as per the scientific studies not only harms the human being, it can modifies the structure of the organs like the intestine studies conducted on mouse.This toxin is active in mammals,it doesn’t breakdown during digestion it can adhere to human intestine and effects the human health.
If BT insecticide is spread it can be removed via rain water , ploughing or by other natural means but it can not be done in the case of BT crops.Repetitive course of exposure to BT crops can lead the new generation of insects which are resistant to the BT, which is a result of natural genetical modification in the next generations.This results in a great problem for the farmers who are dependent on organic farming.
It was found that village who live near corn farm in Philippines have respiratory, digestive system and skin problems. This problems especially occurs during pollen spread term. It has also found that Bt has adjuvant effect.
Coming on to the use of Gm crops by Indian farmers I would like bring the chequered history of the BT cotton in India led to an alarming
rate of farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. BT cotton seeds introduced in 1995 in India is a product of Monsanto only.’Bt and the beast’ is how cotton scientist Keshav Raj Kranthi refers to the controversial genetically modified cotton so widely planted in India’.
Indian farmers were unaware of the modern techniques which has to be used to plant a GM crop. Most of the farmers used the primitive methods only which were not favorable.
If the farmers were able to grow the crop they could not get the return from the market as thousands of illegal illegal seeds were sown in Gujrat.
With no transparency over GM crops in India, no one, farmers or the state agriculture department, is told anything properly.
By letting BT brinjal in the Indian agriculture may lead to the same consequences.
Alteration with the original genome may lead to the depletion of the original one. Once the original gene structure is lost and the impact of BT crops are rampant on human health it might result in genetically modified generation of human who may have malfunctioned organs since birth.One of live example is the accumulation of endosulphane.
As of today our yearly production is 250 mt of grains and about 100 mt as food stock (which is historically highest) and we don’t yet have universal food distribution system which if implemented would require about 70-80 million ton if we would like to cover at least 70% of the population under the proposed Food security Act. So this means that we are producing just right at the moment or may be for yet another decade. The pressure on land for industries, urbanization, environmental concerns has limited and actually decreased the cultivable land and current agricultural practices are unsustainable which depends heavily on fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides. The way forward has to be judicious mix of technology and traditional method of organic farming, as alone would not do in the face of increasing population with rate of 2% per annum. So anticipating the challenge of the future we must prepare ourselves now.
In any case we must not drive ourselves towards extreme by having blanket ban on GM crops and shut our door to use of advanced technologies (BT is based on rDNA technology which as given us many wonders like vaccines, medicines etc). Here are my thoughts on how to bring out the balanced front for this burning issue,
1) The parliamentary committee report indicts on the ground of the ways by which whole issue was dealt, it is indictment of lack of proper policy, regulatory mechanisms and process rather than technology itself. We must first establish proper regulatory bodies which are independent from government, corporate interests and work on pure scientific principles. The commercialization aspect and scientific aspects should be dealt by different bodies.
2) There should be a scientific body to verify any claims of a new organism or crop which should test it with prescribed procedure and method. Its report should be publically available on completion and the administration of the body should be governed by important stakeholders – representative of farmers, eminent scientist, civil society and consumers etc who will have right to inspect the procedure of verification time to time. The testing procedure should be comprehensive and should be made public.
3) The commercialization aspect should be decided based on this report by separate body having representative of scientific community, representative of public (MP etc), government and civil society and they must disclose the approval reasoning and any conditions therein.
4) With permission to any crop, this body must give detailed guidelines to companies on the way marketing of such products should be done and this body should be consulted on marketing material and claims which should be conformed to the actual claims. (There are cases of false claims or misrepresented information) The distributer should provide ‘pre-approved’ detailed method and precautions and other special requirements for using such crops – like amount and frequency of irrigation, what amount of which fertilizer required for optimum production.
The way government has acted in haste of course put some questions about its intentions and credibility. The parliamentary committee has rightly pointed out about inadequate regulatory mechanisms and conflict of interest of various bodies. The transparency and scientific method is the only way forward.
India currently has a total production of 255 mt of food grains with ~100 mt of surplus stock. These numericals might indicate a positive story, but in the face of increasing population at 2% per annum and a fourfold increase in consumption levels (although the Indian households are considered most frugal in the world), will the production levels increase sustainably so as to meet the increasing demands ?
The Indian agriculture industry has traditionally accepted and supported technological advancements in the modes of cultivation to achieve improved crop yields, but the opinion is divided whether employing Genetically Engineered and Modified crops offer a (sustainable) solution for improved yields and reduce hunger. Some say, if hunger could be addressed by techno-logy, Green Revolution should have done it long ago. But when the traditional methods of cultivation with their dependence on fertilizers, monsoons are not yielding the required results, it is worth to experiment the GM(GE) crop varieties.
Some of the positive aspects of GM crops as projected by a section of scientists are:
1. Increased crop yields fewer applications of pesticides and herbicides.
2. Greater precision in selecting characteristics (eg, Golden rice with high vitamin A contents)
3. Faster growth, less dependency on monsoons, fertilizers.
4. Reduced risk of undesirable traits
5. Reduced farming costs
GM crops also have some negative impacts as pointed out by some activists, they are:
1. Environmental issues, the GM seeds might harm non-target beneficial species.
2. GM crops may lead to “monoculture”
3. Soil will become progressively less fertile
4. Malnutrition ( as was observed in case of GM potato)
5. Consumers may develop antibiotic resistance, decreased nutrients and toxins.
Certain questions like:
1. Whom does GM crops benefit ? Industries or farmers ?
2. What is the effect on large-scale farming Vs Small-scale farming (Green revolution was not effective for small-scale farmers)
3. Impact on local traditions of the cultivators
All the above mentioned aspects have be objectively analyzed before commercializing GM crops.
With respect to the Indian scenario, many GM varieties have already been tried like,
1. Bt Cotton (93% of the cotton crops are Bt cotton now)
2. Bt Brinjal
3. Golden rice (high vitamin A contents to overcome VAD)
4. Maize and oil seeds
Some of the observations made wrt Bt Cotton in India are:
1. The yields produced are stagnant
2. Required more fertilizers that non Bt-cotton crops
3. Consumed more water.
4. Requirement of “refuge areas”. GM seeds create “superweeds” or “superbugs” that become resistant to GM seeds and crops. A recent study has documented a decreased susceptibility in pests, a strategy that has been suggested to grow “refuge areas”, so that the pests will migrate to these areas. But this is not at all suited for small-scale farming.
5. Cross pollination has been observed and this is a huge concern as GM crops cannot be cultivated in isolated location.
These observations wrt Bt Cotton crops indicate that the GM crops are not suitable for India. Although the GM varieties did not prove of much help in India, it cannot be said that this is true everywhere.
Also, the Indian farmers are practice an “Informal seed system” wherein, they save harvested grains as seeds for the next crop. If, these farmers start using GM seeds (for which the big corporates already have IP rights) they cannot practice the traditional “Informal seed system” and have to heavily depend on the corporates for seeds. There were certain instances where GM seeds accidentally blown into the fields of farmers who unknowingly used them and had to pay penalties.
The conclusion that can be drawn from a consideration of benefits and concerns raised by GM seeds is that neither full-scale adoption nor full-scale rejection is a viable option.
Government should first focus on other conventional ways of increasing crop production, converting the arid/semi-arid regions to cultivable lands and should restrict GM varieties strictly to labs for proper evaluation before commercializing them.
Despite the Parlaiment panel seeking a ban on production of Genetically modified crops in India, Bt cotton cultivation continues to grow in new areas of Rajasthan. And with it, the problem of child labour keeps increasing. While trafficking of children to Gujarat ‘s Bt cotton fields has substantially come down due to vigilant police and activists,tribals of Kotra block of Rajasthan and other tribal belts of Rajasthan are shifting towards the Bt cotton fields and are employing the children themselves. Their height, nimbleness of fingers, scope for being exploited and low wages make them proffered labour for Bt field.
Genetically modified /engineered crop is not the panacea. If the application of science & technology was the only way to deal with food crisis, then this problem had to be solved by the green revolution itself. India has more than 2200 varieties of brinjal. Genetically modified /engineered crop should not be introduced at the place of its origin. It will arrest its diversity. More than 80% of the cotton produced in India is bt cotton. Not because it is profitable to the farmer but because of non availability of seeds of other local variety and monopoly established by Monsanto for bt cotton seeds. Farmers are forced to buy bt cotton seeds and invest further more for the fertilizers and pesticides which increases the input costs. India being an importer of food grains has now become exporter; this shows that there is no incapability for producing. collective farming and organic farming must be encouraged to remove the problems faced by marginal and small farmers who’s holding of land is very low.
Bt Brinjal is a transgenic brinjal created by inserting a gene [Cry 1Ac] from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into Brinjal. The insertion of the gene into the Brinjal cell in young cotyledons has been done through an Agro bacterium-mediated vector, along with other genes like promoters, markers etc.Environment activists says the effect of GM (genetically modified) crops on rats have shown to be fatal for lungs and kidneys. It is dangerous to introduce these experimental foods into the market without proper research, they say.The key argument used by those who support BT brinjal is that it will boost yields while reducing dependence on pesticides. On average, a brinjal crop undergoes between 50-80 rounds of pesticide spraying.This is said to give the Brinjal plant resistance against lepidopteron insects like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera). It is reported that upon ingestion of the Bt toxin by the insect, there would be disruption of digestive processes, ultimately resulting in the death of the insect.Some scientists have been opposing it, arguing that the genes were toxic and would affect the health of the consumers. Several studies on Bt crops in particular and GM crops in general show that there are many potential health hazards in foods bio-engineered in this manner. GM-fed animals in various studies have shown that there are problems with growth, organ development and damage, immune responsiveness and so on.
It has been found that brinjal relatives are present in areas where cultivation of GM brinjal is proposed. The gene, Bacterium Bacillus Thuringenisis present in GM brinjal may mate with other relatives of brinjal and there will be none organically cultivated brinjal. These genes not only kill the harmful insects but also kill other innocent and beneficial insects and butterflies. This may lead to ecological imbalance as well as implications for future crop contamination.
Importantly, the spread of the GE Bt gene could result in the brinjal becoming an aggressive and problematic weed. If these genes cross-pollinates with weedy or cultivated relatives, the result is a hybrid off spring which may grow more aggressively and become more problematic.
Indian agriculturists have always been growing their own crops. Now with the introduction of GM crops they will always have to be at the mercy of the company which sells these crops. This will add even more pressure on the farmers who are already undergoing financial crisis due to draught.
List of GM crops:-
Cotton, soybean, corn, tomato, sugarcane, rice, squash, sweet peppers.
It was observed that tissues and organs of Bt cotton seed fed lambs showed inexplicable changes. Fears are that similar situation might arise to living beings upon consumption of Bt brinjal. Hence before commercialising it an assessment must be done not only by the GEAC which gave approval on its own assessment but also from independent scientists.
From the above points, since there are more negative than positives on GM crops, I would like to stick on with the naturally and traditionally grown crops by our farmers. Unless further research is done and it is proved that these GM crops are not carcinogenic it is not advisable to shift to these crops.