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BT Brinjal in Orissa - It's time to ring the Warning Bells
"An independent analysis of Mahyco's Bt Brinjal biosafety data by a French scientist brings to light that Bt Brinjal is unsafe for human consumption. The study team led by Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini of Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), France concluded that Bt brinjal release into the environment, for food, feed or cultures, may present a serious risk for human and animal health and the release should be forbidden."
Debjeet Sarangi & Jagannath Chatterjee : January 14, 2009
Orissa is now going to be the experiment ground for BT Brinjal cultivation. Meant to develop devices and new methodologies for a healthy growth of agriculture, Orissa’s only Agriculture University OUAT will be conducting the trials as instructed by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. The trials will be for a period of two years.
However, as soon as Bt Brinjal is approved by the GEAC for commercial cultivation in any state or zone, the farmers of Orissa will be lured by seed dealers to illegally cultivate the crop just as happened in case of Bt Cotton.
An independent analysis of Mahyco's Bt Brinjal biosafety data by a French scientist brings to light that Bt Brinjal is unsafe for human consumption. The study team led by Prof. Gilles-Eric Séralini of Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), France concluded that Bt brinjal release into the environment, for food, feed or cultures, may present a serious risk for human and animal health and the release should be forbidden. This analysis comes close to the next meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India's apex regulatory body for Genetically Engineered crops and foods, scheduled for January 14th. In this meeting, GEAC is reported to be looking at the results of the two year large scale trials of Bt Brinjal in different locations across the country.
"Several differences found between study and (closest) control groups (of animals like rats) in the Bt Brinjal biosafety tests were not reported in the summaries of the test reports but are in the raw data; statistically significant differences that were reported were discounted rather than used to raise food safety concerns or as warranting further investigations, as Prof Seralini points out. Prof Seralini's analysis points out that the interpretation of results in many cases by Mahyco is not scientifically acceptable", said Debjeet Sarangi, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India and Secretary, Living Farms, Bhubaneswar.
"We have written to the Chief Minister citing from this study. We hope he will prevent the poisoning of Brinjal, the favourite food crop of the Oriya's which is consumed daily in its various preparations. We are also concerned that genuine questions about threats posed by GM crops to bio safety, health , bio diversity, that are being raised by scientists from the OUAT, CRRI and the Veterinary Surgeons are being intentionally ignored. This is not science. We find it surprising that the regulatory bodies do not consider it appropriate to consult the Health Ministry, doctor's bodies and veterinary doctors before pushing this highly toxic food down the gullets of an uninformed public," said Jagannath Chatterjee, Campaign Coordinator of Living Farms.
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The analysis also raises serious concerns about India being dumped with an obsolete technology since Bt Brinjal has anti-biotic resistance marker genes like nptII and aad. Therefore, Bt brinjal produces a protein which can induce resistance towards at least kanamycin, a well known antibiotic. This is likely to have disastrous implications for developing countries like India which are struggling with communicable diseases burden.
Further, the longest toxicity tests which are for only 90 days do not assess long-term effects like the development of tumours or cancers. No safety can be concluded about Bt Brinjal based on this, reports this new analysis.
As Debjeet Sarangi points out, "Prof Seralini's analysis clearly shows that there are pointers to problems with Bt Brinjal's safety within Mahyco's own data. It also shows that not only are our regulators not undertaking independent long term research to assess the claims of the crop developer but are not even taking up an analysis of the company's data. If they had done so in 2007 itself, Bt Brinjal would not have been allowed for even large scale trials. We have always been saying that as ecological alternatives exist for pest management, there is no need for Bt Brinjal in this country – more so since Orissa is considered to be the home of brinja. Was brinjal not cultivated in this state without the help of fertilisers and pesticides? It is only after hybrid seeds were pushed during the green revolution and traditional organic input based farming was discontinued that pests became a problem with this crop. With Bt Cotton we have seen that pests have only increased leading to increase in use of pesticides. What will we gain out of Bt Brinjal besides the fact that our daily food will become irreversibly toxic? Agriculture is a culture that should receive holistic treatment not piecemeal introduction of highly toxic inputs".
The biosafety data from Mahyco's experiments with Bt Brinjal was made public by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in August 2008 after a protracted struggle under Right to Information by activists and in a Supreme Court Public Interest Litigation by petitioners Aruna Rodrigues and others. Prof Seralini and his team analysed this data as the first ever independent analysis and show that Bt Brinjal is "unsafe for human consumption".
(Mr Sarangi is the Secretary and Mr Chatterjee is the Campaign Coordinator of 'Living Farms', Bhubaneswar, Orissa)