Oct 19, 2009

Bt brinjal -- India's first poisonous food crop

I am not the least surprised. Knowing that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is merely a rubber stamp for the biotech industry, the environmental approval to India's first genetically modified food crop -- Bt brinjal -- is no surprise. You couldn't have expected anything better from a bunch of stupid bureaucrats and scientists/officials masquerading as regulators. I am sure Michael Moore, if he had followed the ways of GEAC, would have already penned down a sequel to his The Stupid White Men. 

India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh therefore has a monumental task on his hands. He has to appreciate the role of the GEAC (which falls under his ministry) even knowing they have done a shoddy job, and at the same time seek the help of the public at large before taking the final decision pertaining to the commercial release of India's first poisonous food crop. Not a simple task, and I know the tight-rope walking Jairam Ramesh will have to do in the days to come.

His task becomes more difficult when one learns that within days of the GEAC giving its nod, the seed company seeking the approval -- Mahyco -- had already made a presentation to the Prime Minister Office. And let us not forget, Jairam Ramesh's senior colleague and the sugar baron, the Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is already known to have thrown his weight (and we all know how heavy he is ) behind GM crops.

In fact, I sympathise with the chairman of the Expert Committee-II (called EC-II), Dr Arjula R Reddy, who is also the vice-chancellor of the Yogi Yemana University in Hyderabad, to have worked under such difficult conditions. If I were in his place I would have tendered my resignation rather than stamp a report which is clearly the handiwork of USAID and Mahyco. Knowing the incompetence of the members of the EC-II (and I tried to talk to several of their colleagues before saying this) I doubt if they could ever write such a clean copy. Ask them to write two pages, and you will get to known what I mean.

About USAID, the little said the better. I have always referred to it as: US Artificial Insemination Department. And if you have ever been to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh city, you will understand what I mean.

Nevertheless, coming back to the report of the EC-II, it is a complete sham. There is no other word to describe it. I wonder how could the so-called scientists on the panel be so stupid. I can understand the vested interest of the Cornell University scientists, but how come our own breed of scientists be so idiotic? Isn't it a reflection on the kind of people who dominate the corridors of scientific research in the country? This of course holds true for the advisors in the Department of Biotechnology, but I always thought that at least some scientists working in the ICAR and ICMR system would still be engaged in good science. Perhaps that category of scientists has already been marginalised.

This itself is a dangerous trend, too threatening for the future generations. It wouldn't therefore be unfair to say that Indian science is literally in a pit. Only Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh Sauchalaya can pull it out.

Now let us look at some of the conclusions arrived at by the EC-II. On page 2 of the report entitled: Report of the Expert Committee (EC-II) on Bt brinjal EE-1 developed by: M/S Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Ltd. (Mahyco), Mumbai;  University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad; and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore (this report is available on the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests), it states the following:

"Based on the recommendations of the EC-1, the GEAC in its 79th meeting held on Aug 8, 2007, permitted the conduct of large scale trials (LST) of By brinjal for two season under the direct supervision of Director, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), Varanasi to conduct some additional biosafety related studies by M/S Mahyco. the field trials were subjected to compliance of the following conditions:

1. Maintaining an isolation distance of 300 metres. 
2. Submission of validated event specific test protocol at limit of detection (LOD) of at least 0.01 per cent to detect and confirm there has been no contamination.
3. Designated a lead scientist who would be responsible for all aspects of the trials including regulatory requirements."

This is what is called as clear manipulation of the scientific norms. You first lay out conditions that are suitable for you to arrive at the conclusion you are aiming at, and then you make the recommendation based on the flawed parameters laid out. In the research trials at IIVR, the isolation distance between crop fields is kept at 300 metres (because you don't want the contamination to exceed the LOD of 0.01 per cent). Mahyco therefore got the result it was looking for.

But please tell me where in the country can you conform that Bt brinjal is grown with an isolation distance of 300 metres? Shouldn't the IIVR have known this? If not (and we all know that maintaining an isolation distance of 300 metres at the farm level is practically impossible) than the entire scientific experiment began on a faulty premise. The correct experiment should have been to measure the gene flow on adjoining crop fields of brinjal. That would have given us the correct picture. The experiment therefore was designed wrongly to yield the right results.

This is not the only flaw. I can point a number of glaring flaws in the way the experiments were conducted. Only stupid scientists could have endorsed these results.

Now move to the annextures. From page 66 onwards, the EC-II has responded to the issues raised by NGOs, National and International Groups on Bt brinjal biosafety studies. This is a very interesting section, and all you can say is how ashamed you are if this is the scholarship of so called distinguished scientists/officials on the panel. Take the response to the studies conducted by Prof  G Seralini, University of Cannes, France. The response of the EC-II generally is: The EC-II is of the view that no additional information regarding toxicity and allergenicity needs to be generated.

Again it uses the same stupid arguement: Cry1AC protein has a history of safe use for human and animal consumption as GM crops such as Bt maize and Bt potato containing Cry proteins including Cry1AC protein have been consumed by millions of people without any adverse effects. [Each of the responses is simply a cover up. I will take that up subsequently]

I thought the EC-II was a research panel. Instead it has produced the relevant literature to justify its position while ignoring a plethora of scientific research that questions the claims. In any case, the EC-II should have conducted more research to address the issues and concerns raised rather than simply brushing them aside. Let us not forget, history is replete with examples where what was approved as safe by scientists had eventually turned out to be killer. The Orange Gas used by Monsanto in the Vietnam war is a class example. Even now, thousands of people are dying from the residual impact of the gas, which was once considered to be safe. DDT is another example.

Coming to food, we have numerous such examples. Trans fatty acids were once considered to be safe and of course essential for the processing industry. Today, several US States have banned the use of transfats. In fact, food has now become the biggest killer in the United States. More than 400,000 people die from food related ailments, including obesity, every year in the US alone.

Further, I want to ask the chairman of the EC-II a simple question. If I eat Bt brinjal, which you consider as absolutely safe, and I fall ill, is there any way I (or my doctor) can find out whether it was from the alien gene in the brinjal I ate? Do you have any medical assay anywhere in the world which can even pinpoint an ailment or a disease to an alien gene in the GM foods? What will happen Dr Reddy if your wife or children get seriously ill from eating Bt brinjal and your hospital treatment is unable to detect the real cause?

The answer is simple. It is because you allowed premature approvals for poisonous GM crops and foods, without asking the companies to first hold human clinical trials. My sympathy for you surely disappears. Scientists like you should be held responsible, and I think the time has come to make provisions for stringent possible punishment for the approval committees (inlcuding GEAC) if anything goes wrong. Scientists cannot be allowed to play with human lives, animals and the environment.     

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is the most angry I've seen you. I appreciate why.

The question almost become how the public lives around the government which belongs to the corporations.

Linn Cohen-Cole
USA

Anonymous said...

Issues should not be viewed as opportunities for cheap publicity. One should be prudent enough to understand real issues and not mislead the public. The issue has become more political and less scientific.

Yayaver said...

India has allowed in past field trials of GM varieties of rice, brinjal and groundnut. Now bt brinjal is in front of us. I had read your article 'Bt brinjal is unsafe' long back in May. Today, I can't believe that our country is heading towards suicide with all prior warning ignored. Just due to greed of few corrupt politician and impotent scientist. What a shame on the face of us... The great american dream has captured our middle class Indians without looking there unawareness of such manipulation by greedy representatives...

Anonymous said...

I agree with your views...great effort, hope it is successful.

Raja said...

If really the Bt Brinjal is sanctioned. I'll probably stop taking brinjal in my food. But what will we do if all the crops/vegetables follow suit?
Wishing my countrymen best of luck

Prem said...

I have seen your speech in "Poison On The Platter" by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Let's make more people aware of Bt Beinjal. We can do it

profavvijayan said...

Whenever scientists after laborious and long research come out with something new to fight hunger the environmental fundamentalists come with stiff opposition.Whether it is nuclear power,new hydel projects or Bt cottont hey have the same style of meting out half truths and exagerated statements mainly aiming at confusing people. As these people are vociferous and the media support them the guillible public is often carried away.Scientists cannot and are least interested in refuting their false allegations coming openly as they have more serious thing todo, that is work for the welfare of humanity.Same senario is ready for Bt brinjals.There are thousands of natural genetically modified plants and vegetable which we consume with relish.But when the scientists does it for the benifit of man you have all sorts of check posts.All blah-blahs will subside and genetically modified vegetable are going to stay,

A.V.VIJAYAN,TALIPARAMBA,KERALA

susmitha said...

Sir,
I read your article on BtBrinjal,And I wonder how could our scientists in the GEAC give permission to such a GM crop which contain the harmful CRY gene?i m scared on the impact it creates on the envt and our rich biodiversity.we should do something against this before it is too late.
Susmitha chandran,teacher,payyanur,Kerala.

Open said...

Can you tell how can we participate in registering a sincere protest against this to the government and involved organizations ? Right now, people awareness seems to be the only way to prevent this country from becoming a living hell for future generations to come.

Anonymous said...

sir, as a bioinfo student I am really worrried about the reality where the students of biosciences studies itself least concerned about this .they just pass comments & take pride in these innovations.They dont think about these bio-products behond that, which directly affects the socio-politico-economic aspects of the country.

vaikom said...

Good, studied article. There is a great need to expose the paid scientists and politicians on the pay roll of MNCs. There is a need for mass movement, to start from kitchen,to fight against the Monster, who are often dragged by the people of Canada and US to courts. Resistance is also widespread in Europe.

The ongoing public discussion throughout the country outsourced by Minister Jairam Ramesh is a farce. The agency, CEE, is evidently is supported by his Ministry./ Sharad Pawar, the powerful sugar lobby, honcho and Ramesh, who recently certified the drinking water supplied to Bhopal tragedy victims are very safe, though it is well known as highly toxic.

But fight we must, win or loose.

Vaikom Madhu

Anonymous said...

I just want to correct your sentance that "if anything goes wrong PM of India should take all responsibility" for taking such a decision to allow BT Brinjal. I need the children of India cant be test lab rat to the American foolish vampire company.

Dr. Prateek Shilpkar said...

Why the Indian govt. is in so hurry? I think all the officials of GEAC and of Indian govt. and their family members should eat Bt brinjal for two or three years and then aprrove it, if remains healthy.
You are doing a good job. I am with you. We should consult law also and should go for RTI to get all the research findings of MNC regarding Bt brinjal.
Any one contact me for any type of help regarding Protest of Bt brinjal at pshilpkar at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

The western minds think that they can become GOD by altering nature. And the stupid and money minded Indian politicians allow that. Such a sad state of affairs. And once something is introduced in India, it will stay forever. Indians just want to follow whatever the west does. We have been sadly conditioned to do so. There is so much value in our ways life. Being with nature is what will truly help mankind and the earth. Not by going against it.

Anonymous said...

Don'y abuse anyone
ok!!!!1

daniel john said...

I sympathise with the chairman of the Expert Committee-II (called EC-II), Dr Arjula R Reddy, who is also the vice-chancellor of the Yogi Yemana University in Hyderabad, to have worked under such difficult conditions.
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Nikita said...

I am really glad to see people like you and Dr. Shiva. When will our public come out and support...we are a country of 1 billion for crying out loud...and supposedly intelligent!

Amarjeet said...

Fantastic article causing adequate awareness, I must compliment the writer. India is no doubts heading for its biggest ever disaster with respect to food related disorders among its population, and a handful of politicians and scientists are giving us reasons why it is good for India - needless to say the same jokers will have enough money to grow brinjals for their own consumption in their own organic farms somwehre. Some people get rich at the cost of such a large population's health - what a pity this country of Gandhi is going thru !!

Debranjan said...

What will be interesting to notice is the patent behind the BT varieties. Will Monsanto India dictate to farmers that they cannot save the seeds to replant in the next harvest. After all Monsanto IS the worlds least ethical company as per the Covalence survey.

Jaya said...

Sir,
thank you for writing it out in detail for us and if you permit I would like to linkback this post.
thank you!

Anonymous said...

If you eat conventional brinjal, which you consider as absolutely safe, and fall ill due to indiscriminate use of pesticide required for the crop, is there any way out. Dear sir Bt brinjal at-least protect us from menace of pesticides.
Think sensibly.

Anonymous said...

Grow up poor indian politicians.Grow up!

These idiotic and cultureless,maniac westren corporates are out to make maoney from human factory called India. They know samll saving per unit from billions is a huge benefit. They will call it a exit at time when proved otherwise without any compensation. Think what happened to our animal breed. They introduces jersey breed ( which eats meat)of cow and there is a research finding that this cow produces milk with mutuation in casien protien and that causes atherosclerosis.Indian cows( was fed only only on grass) are hard to find now a days.Everything is mixed.Cow eats grass but produces contaminated milk.,

Wake up stupids! Do something that makes sense , that is good for India. That is good for our proud.

Wak

Adil Ashok said...

We need to find out how many Bt crops have been approved by EPA for human consumption in the USA. Are the Bt crops grown in the US at present for fibre and for animal consumption ONLY? This needs to be looked into carefully before we clear bt brinjal for cultivation in India. It should not happen that Monsanto is using India and our country men as guinea pigs to test the effect of Bt crops for human consumption.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir

I think basically the diet of Indians should change a bit. We should include more fruits. Where I live many Avocado trees were senselessly cut down because the people concerned did not realize the food value of Avocado. (You find this fruit tree surviving in most British cantonements in India) Due to our tropical climate with lot of sun and rain we could raise prodiguous amounts of fruit like orange, mango, coconut, dates, jack, cashew, grape,and the like.

The reason I am stating this is because trees are more hardy than grain crops and the food provided by trees is more nutritious. This would result in better nutrition to the people as well as less usage of pesticides or fertilizers as the trees roots go deep into the ground for its sustainence and the fruit does not require much care like grain crop.

So in my humble opinion, to defeat the GM food lobby and monopolists, we Indians should include more fruit, besides vegetables and grain in our diet. I think we can easily produce enough fruit to feed the world. What is your opinion regarding this.

Mallikarjuna Konduri said...

I have read that Bt Cotton has been a fiasco, leading to crop failures and livlihood losses. Why is this information not in the mainstream media? And why do people have to resort to alternate media like blogs (no disrespect) alone to say what needs to be said?

I am glad Jairam Ramesh took the right decision by placing a moratorium on Bt Brinjal. This should encorage all to keep even more vigilant against corporate and coterie manipulation.

Dr. S.Panigrahi said...

I have gone through the script & got surprised,shocked over the activity of our beurocrato-politico SCIENTISTS ,those are bent upon to destroy the economy and ecology.the human value has no meaning for these scientists.i hope your effort could inject some sense.

S.Panigrahi

Amarjeet said...

Monsanto's tre colours....check out this URL,
http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Monsanto%E2%80%99s+true+colour&artid=l8dLX7jUdhc=&SectionID=XVSZ2Fy6Gzo=&MainSectionID=XVSZ2Fy6Gzo=&SEO=Ankeny,+Bollgard+II,+Bollgard+III,+Maharashtra+Hyb&SectionName=m3GntEw72ik=

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The importance of food to good health is one of the oldest and most significant notions in human material culture. Obviously people must eat or they will die, but the concept of ‘health food’ carries with it moral, religious, and even political meanings that go far beyond mere nutrition.

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Essay said...

Bt brinjal is India's first poisonous food crop, and I think this is not a thing which needs to get saved, I think it is necessary to finish this food for the safety of the peoples and I think this is good way of telling peoples that they should know about this and do not eat it.

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Sanjeev Singhal said...

Dear Sir,
I am producing brinjal without chemical pesticides and fruit borer is controlled with with organic input and fertilizers.

any one can visit and see the same at my farm.
No need of BT in any case in our Country.