Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stop the BT Brinjal Poison

A few years ago, I was hanging around in the newsroom of one of India's top television news channels when a senior journalist handed me a ball of what looked like dirty cotton. As I chucked the cotton away in disgust, he said that the cotton was a 'special gift' and that it was the start of a revolutionary change that would sweep the agricultural sector.

Well, that piece of dirty cotton was 'BT Cotton'. This genetically modified crop later proved disastrous to the farming community in India and was soon swept away to the farming archives. BT Cotton not only lead to lower yields, decreased soil fertility and dependence on multinational companies but also resulted in the suicides of thousands of farmers who were unable to cope with the burden of loans and crop failure.

BT Brinjal

Well, history seems to be repeating itself with government approval being given for the production of BT Brinjal. This has resulted in strong protests by farmers, environmentalists, students and so on.

bt brinjal eggplant genetically modified crops seeds monsanto mahyco environment biodiversity
BT Brinjal is a genetically modified type of brinjal. It is a strain created by India's number one seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto. The company claims that BT Brinjal or Bacillus Thuringiensis Brinjal will be resistant to certain pests and improve yields for the farming community. However, these claims are not fully proven and the danger of introducing genetically modified food is way too great.
  • According to environment activists, experiments with genetically modified crops on rats have shown to be fatal for lungs and kidneys. Consumption of such foods are poisonous and it is dangerous to introduce such experimental foods into the market.
  • A study by French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini says the tests conducted by Mahyco, the company producing Bt brinjal, were simply not valid and raised serious health concerns.
  • The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has shown a bias towards multinational corporations like Monsanto. Lots of money seems to have changed hands to get approval for BT Brinjal.
  • Indian agriculture would be threatened when such multinational corporations create a monopoly and start charging exorbitant amounts for seeds. The increased dependence on seeds on such MNC's would again lead to farmer debt and suicides.

How Do Multinational Seed Companies Really Work?

Decades ago, before the advent of multinational companies, farmers had a different system of cultivating crops. After harvest, some of the vegetable seeds or grain would be kept aside, so that they could be replanted the next season. Cow dung, vegetable waste matter and so on were used as fertilizers to provide nourishment to the crops.

bt brinjal eggplant genetically modified crops seeds monsanto mahyco environment biodiversity
For pesticides, the farmers relied on the animal food chain of insects, frogs, snakes and other farm animals. Though the yield was not very high, the whole ecosystem benefited from the hard work of the farmer. The farmer was also self sufficient and did not have to depend on big multinationals for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.

Well, the main aim of any profitable business is to first create a unique product and then create dependence on that product and related products. With good marketing strategies and timely government approvals, this maximizes profits. In the case of multinational seed manufactures this process includes creation of a new type of genetically modified seed to ensure that their business continues to flourish.

Monsanto and Mahyco are currently in the news for their new type of genetically engineered eggplant - BT Brinjal. Though the companies claim through their marketing departments that the new type of Brinjal plant will be resistant to some pests and increase agricultural productivity, the risks seem to far outweigh the benefits -
  • The seeds can be used only once. The farmers cannot save seeds from the previous harvest for later use and will be dependent on Mahyco and Monsanto for more seeds in the coming years.
  • The fact that BT Cotton is 'pest resistant' means that small animals that comprise the food chain in agricultural areas will either die of poisoning or starvation. Many organisms that depend on each other in the food chain will become extinct. This will have an adverse environmental impact and destroy the farm ecosystem.
  • The production of genetically manufactured crops is known to reduce soil fertility. The amount of actinomycetes, bacteria and vital soil enzymes, necessary for healthy growth of the plant are lessened. Multinational companies hope to solve this problem of soil fertility by selling some of their related products like fertilizers and other chemicals to farmers. This will, of course, be at a high cost and only serve to increase their monopoly.
  • Even though the company says that the crop is 'pest resistant', it still recommends 'one or two sprays' against insect attack, which may increase depending on the intensity of pest infestation. No prizes for guessing who manufactures the recommended pesticide...
  • Around 2000 sheep were reported dead in India and New Zealand after grazing on post harvest BT-Cotton crops. Since humans don't consume cotton as a foodcrop, we were saved from experiencing adverse side effects to our health and long term poisoning deaths.
  • As BT Brinjal is an edible foodstuff consumed by poor people all over India, it is necessary to make sure that the food is safe. This will stop health problems from happening and reduce dependence on pharma companies for medicines.
The advantages of genetically modified crops trumpeted by multinational companies is today an outdated concept. Organic farming is the new buzzword. This type of farming relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests. It excludes or strictly limits the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives and genetically modified organisms.

Organic farming is downright cheap when it comes to agricultural inputs, healthy and protects the farm biodiversity. Farmers are also not dependent on multinational seeds, pesticide and fertilizer companies and their monopolies. Instead of giving approval to 'faltu' improperly tested genetically modified crops such as BT Brinjal, the Government should concentrate on promoting environmentally safe and healthy techniques of cultivating crops such as Organic Farming.

Have you read about the BT Brinjal controversy? What are your views on this issue?


  1. Very good post. Much informative.

    Great job. Thanx for sharing.



  2. Yes, I did with some blogs. They were talking about this BT stuff. Terrible, I say. You should see the size of Brinjal here, HUGE and tasteless. Hope they don't do change anything about any veggies there!!

  3. Good article! "Iyarkai vivsayam" is the way to go - even if the yield is less initially, it has proven to be good for the long run. Let us not become "to-be-tested" animals!

  4. Great Post.....

    I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

    Thanks for sharing....

  5. A post which gets things right about being skeptical about the safety of GM foods, but also loads of unsolicited blind assertions of unverified claims, or at least a post that doesn't back itself up with links to proper scientific evidence...

    Would like to see a citation for the assertion of lung toxicity, firstly,
    secondly, you do realize that to accuse someone of corruption without evidence, namely the GEAC, would be illegal and grounds for libel?

    The two things your post does get right is the assessment of the trialling procedure, which was scientifically deemed inadequate, and also the dangers associated with terminator seed technology (new seeds have to be purchased every time a crop is farmed), but yet again, I'd like to see evidence for the direct statistical cause-and-effect relationships between farmer debt and Bt crops, which your post doesn't mention.

    And finally, I remain very skeptical of the environmentalists' claims that Bt toxin is poisonous to humans and animals, they are very specific and only affect insects of the order Lepidoptera, which mainly includes moths.

    While you do raise some valid pointgs, I wish that you will atleast attempt to be more intellectually and scientifically rigorous in making your assertions and coming to your conclusions.



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