Farmers are selling GM brinjals (eggplants/aubergines) in the country’s markets without labels, in violation of an obligation imposed by the National Committee on Biosafety
The article below says the director of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) not only told Bt brinjal farmers they didn’t need to label them (in clear breach of the country’s own biosafety approval) but actually said they should tag sacks of them “poison-free”!
Such a label is highly unlikely to be accurate. Even the recent pro-GMO BBC Panorama programme admitted that farmers still sprayed the Bt brinjal with pesticides aimed at pests that are not killed by the Bt toxins engineered into the brinjal. The Bt toxins are intended to kill caterpillars of a certain pest, but are not effective against pests in general.
In fact, the attacks that brinjal farmers have to contend with are said to include not just insects, but diseases and nematodes that can inflict serious damage on their brinjal crops. Against all of these, they will typically be employing toxic agrochemicals.
If Bangladesh has any trading standards laws relating to false claims on goods, now seems a good time to deploy them. The trouble is, it seems likely that the innocent farmers would be in the legal firing line, when the guilt lies firmly with the irresponsible director of BARI.
Given his outrageous disregard for both truth and biosafety, it is disturbing that BARI is not just in charge of the Bt brinjal trials, but is the main conduit for the information about their success that reaches the outside world. In this regard, BARI has been working hand-in-glove with Mark Lynas, who has been accused of showing an equal disregard for the truth in reporting.
Unlabelled Bt brinjals flood market
Abu Bakar Siddique
Dhaka Tribune, 10 June 2015
Farmers are selling genetically-modified brinjals in the country’s markets without labels, in violation of an obligation imposed by the National Committee on Biosafety.
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) also did not conduct any laboratory test by itself regarding the possible negative impacts of the controversial GM crop on land, insects, and the health of farmers and consumers.
Much of the 350 tonnes of Bt brinjal, being produced all over the country since November, have been sold out while the rest will hit the market during Ramadan when the demand rises sharply.
Dr Rafiqul Islam Mondol, the BARI director general, said: “The practice of having labels is not pragmatic with regard to the Bangladesh context where poor farmers sell their products to wholesalers and later those products go to different parts of the country in an accumulated manner.
“However, we advised the farmers to tag ‘poison-free Bt brinjal’ on the sacks.”
No regularity authorities are supervising Bt brinjal’s marketing process. Dhaka Tribune could not reach any member of the National Committee on Biosafety.
On September 8 last year, the Bari DG himself admitted that, before releasing the Bt brinjal varieties, they had not conducted any test in any local laboratory. He also acknowledged that most of the farmers who cultivated Bt brinjal during the pilot stage faced loss as the brinjals were caught by pests.
However, GM crops on the fields are supposed to drive away pests – both useful and those harmful – because of the Bt gene, patented by US seed giant Monsanto, inserted into them.
Indian research firm Mahyco, in which Monsanto has 26% stake, developed the brinjal varieties for BARI with the financial support of USAID.
India banned Mahyco’s Bt brinjal in 2010 after its harmful effects were exposed.
The same group earlier developed brinjal varieties in the Philippines. But the move was stalled by a court order, considering possible health hazards.
GM crops are banned in a number of countries around the world.
Despite production failure at the pilot stage, the government in October last year distributed Bt brinjal saplings among 106 farmers in 17 different districts to make the controversial crop popular among the farmers.
According to BARI, average production of Bt brinjal is 40 tonnes per hectare. It means the farmers this time can grow around 350 tonnes of Bt brinjal in around 8.5 hectares.
The BARI chief said each farmer had been given saplings of two different varieties for 20 decimal land. “In most cases, the farmers experienced good production and are now selling them in the markets,” he added.
Dhaka Tribune could not verify the claims regarding production.
The government released the four varieties – Bt Uttara, Bt Kajla, Bt Noyontara and Bt Isd 006 – on October 30, 2013 for cultivation on a limited scale.
Environmental activists have been opposing the government move since the beginning, expressing serious concerns about the biological and health hazards of the GM crops.
Several organisations and individuals also challenged the release of Bt brinjal at the top court seeking extensive assessment. The court, however, rejected the public interest litigations.
Farida Akter, executive director of Ubinig – an agricultural research organisation – alleged the government was forcing the consumers to buy the controversial product without following the condition on labelling.
Labels on the crop could offer the consumers a scope to decide whether or not to buy the Bt brinjals. “Now they have no choice,” she said.