Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bt Brinjal-Genetically speaking

Brinjal has never been such a debatable issue in country. Most of us probably push it away during dinner at home, but this brinjal is on a verge of creating history by becoming countries first transgenic food crop. This transgenic food crop, Bt brinjal had crossed the regulatory hurdle of Genetic Engineering Approval Committee(GEAC) which is mandatory approval agency for any genetically modified crop to commercialize in India under Ministry of Environment & Forest.

According to Financial Express, brinjal is a survival cash crop for more than 1.4 million small and marginal farmers and is grown in more than 5.5 lakh hectares in the country. Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer, EFSB (Leucinodes orbonalis)is the major pest which is responsible for 70% of the brinjal crop loss, and about two-third of the pesticide used for the crop is spend in controlling EFSB pest. Cry gene technology has made brinjal crop resistant from pest and reduced 70% of the pesticide employed for controlling EFSB pest.

Cry gene technology has become a key factor in achieving advances in agriculture. As we can see the result of Bt cotton which has changed the life of farmers growing cotton. The adoption of Bt cotton by farmers increased from 3.8 million in 2007 to 5 million in 2008 which is an adoption rate of about 82%. Brinjal issue is somewhat different as it will be used for human consumption. The studies done by GEAC did not show any risk and 105 page report which declares Bt brinjal as ‘safe’ for human consumption is available online for anyone to comment upon it till Dec 31.

Labelling of Bt brinjal is the next contentious issue that needs to be resolved. Currently In India, there is no labelling regime for genetically modified crops. There is no international agreement, standard, or guideline on GM food labeling. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has discussed this issue for over a decade without reaching consensus on a labeling guideline. India is soon going to come up with Act which is currently under scanner, it deals with the future standards for foods in India. It is known as “Food Safety and Standard Act 2006”. The act deals with genetically modified food but not with the labelling provisions. All the standards in the following act are science based and ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto provision. There needs to be mandatory labelling provision for the genetically modified food , but there are many questions that needs to be answered if labeling of GM foods becomes mandatory. Who is to be responsible for educating the public about GM food labels and how costly will that education be? Food labels must be designed to clearly convey accurate information about the product in simple language that everyone can understand. This may be the greatest challenge faced by a new food labeling policy: how to educate and inform the public without damaging the public trust and causing alarm or fear of GM food products. Will it result in consumer choice?, Would it be compatible with the country’s general economic goals and its international obligations? What will be the acceptable limits of GM contamination in non-GM products ? If the food production industry is required to label GM foods, factories will need to construct two separate processing streams and monitor the production lines accordingly. Farmers must be able to keep GM crops and non-GM crops from mixing during planting, harvesting and shipping. It is almost assured that industry will pass along these additional costs to consumers in the form of higher prices. Are consumers willing to absorb the cost of such an initiative? A response to each of these questions is necessary to ensure the introduction of a labeling policy serves a country’s economic and social goals.

Genetically-modified foods have the potential to solve food security problem by eroding world’s hunger and malnutrition problem, and to help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yield and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. Yet there are many challenges ahead for governments, especially in the areas of safety testing, regulation, international policy and food labeling. Many people feel that genetic engineering is the inevitable wave of the future and that we cannot afford to ignore a technology that has such enormous potential benefits. However, we must proceed with caution to avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment as a result of our enthusiasm for this powerful technology.


Anil said...

I would like to add here that Bt Brinjal is safe for human consumption.The toxic protein can only bind to receptors present in the gut of lepidoterean insects and no such receptors are present in case of humans and other non-lepidoterean insects.
Secondly the said protein also gets denatured while cooking and thus there is no harm or toxic effect as far as human health is concerned.

Ruchica Goyal said...

very well said Anil, I hope there will come a day when common people of this plannet will realize this.