Bt brinjal committee = foxes guarding the chicken coop
2.Mahyco confident of Bt brinjal getting approval
NOTE: The more that emerges about the composition of this committee, the clearer it is why Monsanto's Indian partner Mahyco is so confident of getting Bt brinjal approval (see item 2 published ahead of the committee's first meeting). For more on the multiple conflicts of interest, see http://bit.ly/mHyKBs
1.Bt brinjal expert committee = foxes guarding the chicken coop
Greenpeace India, April 29 2011
When the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) expert group members met on Wednesday, April 27th, to discuss Bt brinjal, they were shocked to see Greenpeace activists standing right next to their meeting room with a "We Say No to Bt brinjal" message.
We were there in true Greenpeace spirit of witnessing a crime and letting the world know about it. The idea was to let all those 'experts' know that people of India were watching them. We stood there as representatives of a Coalition for GM Free India, made up of hundreds of diverse groups across 20 states in the country.
Before I tell you more about what we did, let me first introduce this GEAC ‘expert’ group and their ‘expertise’ to you. In the new expert group set up by GEAC to look into all the concerns raised against Bt brinjal, at least 9 people are known for their pro-GM views, their work on GM and their earlier clearance of Bt brinjal. Of these, six are directly involved in GM crop development.
One of the members of this expert group Mr. JL Karihaloo is the coordinator of Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCOAB). The APCOAB is funded by Mahyco. This 'expert' group also includes Mr. Keshav Kranthi, Mr. Raj Bhatnagar, Mr. Akhilesh Tyagi, Mr. Sudhir Sopory and Mr. Deepak Pental. All these individuals are GM crop developers. Apart from these 6 members, at least 3 others have time and again come out with their unconditional support for GM crops. These include members like G Padmanaban, Dr B Sesikiran and Dr VL Chopra.
Now these people together constitute a majority in the expert committee and the GEAC wants us to believe that they will take an unbiased decision irrespective of the clear conflict of interest.
Coming back to the activity, we reached NASC Complex, PUSA Delhi, the meeting venue, at 11.00 am. The meeting was already underway. Some of our volunteers stood outside the premises with anti-Bt brinjal stickers on their faces.
The expert group was shocked to see activists and volunteers waiting for them, as they stepped out for tea. As expected, they were reluctant to speak to us. The situation made them very uncomfortable. In spite of their reluctance we managed to interact directly with almost all expert committee members participating in the meeting. We handed over our letter to each one of them highlighting the ‘need to completely reject the Bt brinjal bio-safety dossier and say No to Bt brinjal’s commercial cultivation in India’. We also demanded that those associated with GM crop development should leave the group in the interest of independent, credible decision-making.
The committee members were in for another surprise when they saw the same letters sitting on their desks inside the meeting room after their tea break! Our message to them was loud and clear. “GM crop developers and those who have earlier cleared Bt brinjal should not be sitting in this expert group.”
This so called “expert” group lacks the “expertise” needed to assess Bt brinjal's impacts. The group does not have social scientists, civil society representatives, genetic toxicologists or those who are opposed to GM technology. There were too many biotechnologists working on GM crop development and too few scientists looking into environmental and health implications.
Allowing people with vested interests in GM technology to decide the feasibility of Bt brinjal, is like asking a fox to guard a chicken coop. A moratorium was placed on Bt brinjal after a series of public consultations, which took the public opposition into consideration. A decision on the same cannot be based on the advice of a group trying to safeguard its own interests.
2.Mahyco confident of Bt brinjal getting approval
DNA, April 23 2011
After a lull of one year, the Bt brinjal issue is again coming to the forefront.
Post last year’s moratorium on its release issued by environment minister Jairam Ramesh, a 16 member expert panel constituted by the minister along with the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) is to meet next week to discuss the matter.
Though it is not very clear as to whether the meeting on April 27 will recommend further testing, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco), the company which has developed the Bt brinjal is optimistic of the outcome of the meeting.
Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director of research, Mahyco, said that the firm is confident about Bt brinjal.
“There is a need to look at infusion of technology into agriculture to increase production,” said Zehr.
Bt brinjal refers to brinjal which has been genetically modified and infused with a gene of a bacterium ”” bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This gene produces a protein ”” Cry 1Ac ”” which kills the fruit and shoot borer, a pest which destroys brinjal.
Various estimates peg annual yield losses of between 20% and 70% due to damage caused by the fruit and shoot borer.
Zehr said that Bt brinjal would nullify the need for pesticides for the fruit and shoot borer, and would reduce the overall need for pesticides for the crop.
However, according to Kavita Kuruganti, an agriculture activist, there are other ways of managing pests like botanical extracts and non-pesticidal management of crops, rather than corporate-centric technologies.
The Bt technology has been licenced by Mahyco from US based crop company Monsanto, which holds a 26% stake in Mahyco.
Brinjal is a key crop in India, with estimates by the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education claiming that 25 million Indian farmers cultivate the crop on 5.1 lakh hectares of land with an annual production of 8.2 million tonnes.
In October 2009, the GEAC had approved Bt brinjal, following which there were widespread protests against release of the same, as concerns over the safety of the product came to the fore.
Jairam Ramesh had thereafter imposed a moratorium which would last till independent scientific studies could establish the products’ long-term safety on health.
Bhaskar Goswami, from the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Safety, said that at present, safety concerns continue to remain.
“The bio-safety tests have to be 100% sure of the long-term safety of the food. The Bt gene degenerates when cooked, but there is no clarity on whether it remains if the vegetable is consumed uncooked.”
Zehr said that over 25 tests have been done on fish, goats, rats, buffaloes, etc to check the toxicity.
“As per the bio-safety guidelines by the Ministry of Science and Technology, all the safety tests have been completed. The expert committee I and II asked for further testing which was also completed,” said Zehr.
However, some experts feel there should be no hurry in decision making pertaining to the Bt brinjal.
“More experimental studies and greater assessment is required. Once it is allowed into the food chain, it becomes near impossible to track the direct effects on human health,” said Kuruganti.