Academies copied material from an industry lobby report to push Bt brinjal
Dinesh C. Sharma
India Today, September 26 2010
New Delhi - India's top science academies have done the unthinkable. They have copied and quoted extensively from an industry lobby report to give a clean chit to the controversial genetically modified (GM) brinjal.
Key portions and data in the much touted Inter-Academy Report on Genetically Modified Crops have been lifted straight from a report of a lobbying group funded by seed companies, including Monsanto and Mahyco.
In March, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the six science academies - the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (India) - to give an unbiased scientific assessment on the feasibility of transgenic crops and the proposed regulatory mechanism for GM food. They submitted the report to Ramesh this week, recommending the commercial release of Bt brinjal.
But it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by USbased GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA). They have recommended the commercial release of Bt brinjal and the lifting of the moratorium imposed on it by Ramesh.
Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal. This was exposed by M AIL T ODAY in February this year.
The report in question currently has copied most of the data and information in support of Bt brinjal from an ISAAA report The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India and an article Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push by Dr P. Anand Kumar in Biotech News - a publication of the Department of Biotechnology.
Both were published in 2009. Being a developer of GM crops himself, Kumar is a vocal supporter of Bt brinjal.
The academies have declared Bt brinjal safe by copying the following paragraph verbatim from Dr Kumar's article: " Bt brinjal ' Event EE- 1' has been subjected to a rigorous biosafety regulatory process encompassing all aspects of toxicity, allergenicity, environmental safety, socio- economic assessment etc.
"Studies on food and feed safety have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows. Similarly, environmental impact assessments to study germination, pollen flow, invasiveness, aggressiveness, weediness, and effect on non- target organisms were also carried out." The data that has been lifted from the industry document relates to key issues.
The copied portion says: "It (brinjal) is an important cash crop for poor farmers who transplant it from nurseries at different times of the year to produce two or three crops, each of 150 to 180 days' duration."
Again, on losses caused by pests, an entire paragraph has been lifted from the ISAAA report: "Brinjal Shoot and Fruit Borer (BSFB) causes significant losses of up to 60 to 70 per cent in commercial plantings. Damage starts in the nursery, prior to transplanting, continues to harvest and is then carried- over to the next crop of brinjal. BSFB damages brinjal in two ways.
First, it infests young shoots during the vegetative phase, which limits the ability of plants to produce healthy fruitbearing shoots, thereby reducing potential yield."
Another piece of data used to justify Bt brinjal has been lifted from the industry report: "Farmers usually spray twice a week, applying 15 to 40 insecticide sprays, or more, in one season depending on infestation levels."
Figures relating to the financial cost of insecticide spray by farmers too come from the industry document. The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.