Even though the first trial scheme failed, the government is distributing saplings of GM Bt brinjal among over 100 farmers – up from 20 – to make the controversial variety popular

Biotech companies don't need to develop GMO crops that work when they've got so-called public research institutes acting as their salesmen.

The pilot scheme for Bt brinjal (eggplant) failed in Bangladesh.

But the rabidly pro-GMO director of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Dr Rafiqul Islam Mondol, has decided to spread the misery by distributing Bt brinjal saplings to 100 farmers – up from the previous 20.

Mondol appears not to care at all about the fate of the farmers. Some who were part of the initial experiment with Bt brinjal complained that the failed crop had ruined them.

Mondol has admitted that no independent health testing has been done on the GM brinjal variety and has expressed contempt for his country's biosafety requirement that GM brinjals not be sold without labels (see below), in defiance of which the GM brinjals were sold in local markets without any labels.

BARI moves to popularise Bt brinjal

Abu Bakar Siddique
Dhaka Tribune, 3 Nov 2014

* Each farmer is given saplings of two varieties for half bigha land

Even though the first trial scheme failed, the government is now distributing saplings of genetically modified Bt brinjal among over 100 farmers – up from 20 – to make the controversial variety popular.

“We selected 106 farmers in 17 districts to distribute the saplings. The distribution began last month,” Dr Rafiqul Islam Mondol, director general of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), said.

Each farmer is given saplings of two varieties for half bigha land, though BARI initially decided to suggest one bigha for each variety.

In February, the government distributed saplings among 16 farmers in Gazipur, Jamalpur, Rangpur and Ishwardi to cultivate those in one bigha land each. However, most of them carried out poor results.

The BARI chief now claims that this time farmers will not face any difficulties as “October-November is the appropriate season for brinjal cultivation.”

On October 30 last year, the state-owned research institute released the four GM varieties without giving any satisfactory explanation on issues related to environmental and health hazards raised by campaigners. The move was even challenged in court, but rejected.

In the face of concerns, the government last December tasked the BCSIR, better known as science laboratory, to analyse if the varieties had any negative health impact. The report is yet to be prepared.

BARI developed the varieties with the help of India’s Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) by inserting bt gene into the local varieties. The gene is patented by American seed giant Monsanto.

Mahyco, in which Monsanto has 26% stake, developed the varieties with the financial support of the USAID. Mahyco’s Bt brinjal was banned in India in 2010 after its harmful effects were exposed. The same group earlier developed GM brinjal varieties in the Philippines. But the move was stalled by a court order, considering the health hazards.

Farmers in Bangladesh had experienced drying up of seedlings and pest attacks because of demonstrating in late season, the BARI chief claimed.

Rafiqul also said they were expanding the areas of cultivation to make the product popular across the country.

Apart from last year’s four districts, the new areas include Manikganj, Tangail, Pabna, Kushtia, Comilla, Jessore and Dinajpur.

At a press conference on September 8, the BARI DG himself acknowledged that before releasing the varieties, they had not conducted any laboratory test on the possible negative impacts on human health.

Nine of the 20 farmers present at the event said they had faced huge financial losses due to poor production output as most of the saplings died at different stages of cultivation.

On labelling GM brinjals before marketing them, Dr Rafiqul told the Dhaka Tribune that it would not be possible to maintain labelling while selling the brinjals. It would be ridiculous.

According to a condition imposed by the National Committee on Biosafety, no GM crop can be sold without labels. Bt brinjals produced by the 20 farmers were sold at local markets allegedly without any label.