What Is The Correct Flow Of Information In Gene Expression A Long Rough Ride for Genetically Modified Brinjal in India

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A Long Rough Ride for Genetically Modified Brinjal in India

The fruit and shoot borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) of brinjal causes crop losses of 50 to 70 percent. Farmers are prone to indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides about 25 to 80 sprays, and this involves high costs and results in damaged fruits. Excessive use of chemicals also leads to accumulation of pesticide residues in produce, destruction of beneficial insects, re-emergence of pests, exposure of farm workers to pesticides and environmental pollution. The Cry 1 Ac gene from Bacillus thuringiensis inserted into brinjal varieties (Bt brinjal), like genetically modified cotton, provides a built-in pest control mechanism to save crops from damage, reduce cultivation costs and prevent accidental health and environmental hazards.

Mahyco has developed Bt Brinjal hybrids and has also entered into partnerships with public institutions to develop local varieties with the Bt gene.

Mahyco applied to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for permission to conduct large-scale outdoor trials. Soon, Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad and Greenpeace India trashed the concept of Bt brinjal, presented position papers and presented to GEAC against Mahyc’s claim. Although there were objections to the GEAC in favor of Bt brinjal, the GEAC was fair to the anti-biotech lobby and set up a committee to investigate this contentious issue. Dissatisfied with the composition of GEAC’s board, the anti-biotech lobby set up its own ‘independent expert committee’, a kind of parallel ‘GEAC’. While it is obvious that this committee needs to block GM brinjal, there is nothing stopping it from getting a fresh lease of life to pontificate on other GM crops.

The many questions raised by the Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Greenpeace regarding genetically modified brinjal have been discussed earlier on this site.

Bt brinjal has been subjected to a series of tests and analyses, details of which are available on the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. None of these studies have indicated negative possibilities that justify banning the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal.

During Mahyco’s development of Bt brinjal since 2000, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR, Government of India) and the Genetic Modification Review Board (RCGM, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India) have monitored the field at multiple trial locations. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, an ICAR institution, which has considerable experience with Bt brinjal, is also associated. Numerous private and public sector institutions/organizations are involved in mandatory and supplementary tests and analyses, as listed below:

a) Acute oral toxicity in rats, mucosal irritation tests in female rabbits and primary skin irritation tests in rabbits: Intox, Pune.

b) Effects on non-target and beneficial insects: All India Coordinated Research Project (Vegetable Crops), Varanasi.

c) Assessment of allergenicity: Rallis India Ltd., Bangalore.

d) Dietary responses of common carp and growth performance: Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai.

e) Effects on broilers: Central Avian Research Institute, Izatnagar.

f) Subchronic feeding tests on rabbits and goats: Advinus Therapeutic, Bangalore.

g) Cow feeding trials: GB Pant University of Agricultural Sciences, Pantnagar.

h) Molecular fingerprinting and chemical studies: Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad.

This refutes accusations that the companies are conducting Bt brinjal trials in the open and without independent verification of the safety claims made by the product developers. If the anti-tech lobby is to be believed, all of these public and private sector investigative agencies are colluding with product developers.

Efficacy studies have shown that Bt brinjal cultivars effectively control brinjal stem borer and fruit borer and American bollworm, with insect mortality of 98 percent.

Various other parameters comparing Bt and non-Bt brinjal cultivars such as pollen flow, seed germination and weediness, aggressiveness, Bt protein accumulation in soil, soil microbiota, significant equivalence, protein expression, baseline susceptibility, extent of refugium required and its benefits and socioeconomic and risk assessment, etc., were examined, none of which indicate that Bt brinjal is undesirable.

Bt brinjal cultivars were found to be substantially equivalent to their non-Bt isogenic factors such as chemical constituents, moisture, protein, oil, ash, carbohydrates, calories per fruit, nitrogen, ash and crude fiber content in leaf, stem and root tissues, cooking properties and evaluation of protein in cooked fruit.

None of that works in favor of the protesters.

While considering a Public Interest Litigation against all genetically modified (GE) products, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) recently ordered the GEAC not to approve new field trials of GE crops, leaving Mahyco’s application for mass-use field trials of Bt brinjal open. on hold. Although the SCI decision, however, does not prevent GEAC’s Brinjal Committee from functioning, Bt brinjal still has a long and difficult road to commercialization.

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