For quite sometime Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has been commenting on the need to have GM crops. While we appreciate what she has done in her biotech business, but I think it is always advisable to keep yourself confined to your areas of specialisation. Treading into areas (read agriculture) about which you know little can be dangerous, and this is what she often does.
I was asked to respond to some of her remarks. Here is a brief news report that incorporates my response. Titled To be or not to Bt, the report appeared in the Bangalore edition of the New Indian Express.
To Bt or not to Bt
Imran Khan/Jayadevan PK
BANGALORE, Jan 20: There is a false propaganda against Bt Brinjal, said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD, Biocon on Tuesday.
However, she was quick to be countered by food policy expert Devinder Sharma, who said Mazumdar was only interested in ‘making money’ and therefore does not mind ‘lying’.
Speaking for Bt brinjal and the use of biotechnology in agriculture at a curtain raiser event for Bangalore Bio 2010, Shaw said, “There is a danger of false propaganda against Bt, especially at a time when it is going commercial”.
She said, “We need to tackle this on a scientific basis. Bt is a very safe science and we are all very responsible stakeholders.
Agri-biotech can prove very helpful for the country.” The scientists and policy analysts, though, are divided on the issue.
In an online conversation with the Express, Sharma said, “Bt is a hazardous technology, and will poison successive generations.
People have rejected the technology and one should respect the sentiments of the people.” He terming the environmental clearance accorded by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to Bt Brinjal as biggest “scientific fraud” in the country. The report, he alleged, “blatantly ignored dangerous impact of Bt brinjal on the organs of rats and other animals”.
He said, “There is a strong conflict of interest with several members of the committee being responsible for or associated with the development of Bt brinjal.” “It has been established that compared to Bt bio-pesticide sprays, the concentration of Bt toxin in Bt brinjal is thousand times more,” he added.
"There have been animal deaths after they grazed on Bt cotton leaves in Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. Bt is supposed to kill sucking pests like pink bollworm in cotton and thereby reduce pesticides consumption.
This, however, does not hold true for long.” Citing the case of China, Sharma said farmers growing Bt cotton are now reported to be spraying eight per cent more pesticides and incurring losses. This report is based on a study conducted by the Cornell University, he added.
Responding to the pro-GM argument that Bt in agriculture will ensure food security, Sharma said: “There is no shortage of food in the world. We have 6.5 billion people on Earth and we produce food for 11.5 billion people.
If more than one billion people are going to bed hungry, it is because of the faulty distribution process rather than the unavailability of food.”
State horticulture dept says no Bt brinjal
A senior official of the horticulture department said, “The department has submitted a report in this regard to the state government. But overall, our position is ’No to Bt brinjal’.’’ President of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Kodihalli Chandrashekar, said, “For the past 15 years, we have been fighting against genetic engineering technology. When Bt cotton was introduced, we even burnt the trial fields of Cargill and Monsanto. Bt brinjal is harmful not only to the environment but also for human beings. Hence, when Jairam Ramesh will be in town on January 25, we will hold protest in large numbers.”