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HomeScienceGM brinjals are helping Bangladesh farmers earn more, save more, study finds

GM brinjals are helping Bangladesh farmers earn more, save more, study finds

The study was conducted by US-based International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, a government agency.

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New Delhi: Genetically modified (GM) brinjals result in over 40 per cent higher yields at half the pesticide expense of conventional seeds, a report from Bangladesh has concluded.

Researchers from the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, a government agency, examined the impact of GM brinjals and found a 47 per cent reduction — or $85.53 (approx. Rs 6,000)/hectare — in the expense incurred by farmers on pesticides. The quantity of pesticides used was also found to have come down by 39 per cent.

Brinjal is a pest-prone crop

Brinjal is heavily treated with pesticides in Bangladesh since it is susceptible to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) pest. Farmers spray their brinjal crop several times throughout the season to reduce yield losses.

Bt Brinjal is a GM variety that has a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). According to the report, “The protein in Bt Brinjal modification disrupts the digestive systems of certain pests, causing them to die within three days of ingestion.”

In 2013, Bangladesh became the first South Asian country to approve commercial cultivation of a GM food crop. Farmers in the country increasingly cultivate four indigenous varieties of Bt brinjal, which are resistant to attacks by the FSB, a common pest in South and Southeast Asia.

Also read: After ‘uprooting’ crop, Haryana asks Modi govt to probe Bt brinjal contamination case

The study

For the study, 1,200 farmers living in 200 villages were randomly selected to receive seedlings of either Bt brinjal-4 or non-Bt brinjal (ISD-006).

The study found that only 1.8 per cent of all Bt brinjal crops were infested by the pest, while 33.9 per cent of the conventional crop was affected by FSB.

The yield of Bt brinjal was also 42 per cent higher than the normal crop, equivalent to a 3,622 kilogram increase for every hectare. With reduced costs of pesticides and increased yield, profit of farmers increased by nearly $400 (approx. Rs 28,400) per hectare.

The study also indicated a 56 per cent reduction in environmental toxicity due to the reduced use of pesticides.

Individuals in households growing Bt brinjal were less likely to report symptoms consistent with pesticide exposure, such as chronic respiratory illnesses or skin disease.

Also read: No one taken ill by my Bt brinjal, says Haryana farmer. Experts say it’s safe, legalise it

Bt Brinjal in India

In India, Bt Brinjal has been facing trials for over a decade. It was first sent to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — which falls under the environment ministry and looks into “activities involving large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle” — in 2004.

It was cleared by the panel, but a review committee was constituted in 2007 to address environment- and health-related concerns of civil society groups.

The GEAC approved the commercial cultivation of the crop in 2009. However, in February 2010, the then minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh overruled GEAC and announced an indefinite moratorium on the introduction of Bt brinjal.

Earlier this year, farmers from various states, including Maharashtra and Haryana, decided to openly flout the GM crop ban and sow Bt Brinjal.

Also read: EU study trashes anti-GM paper by French expert who Jairam Ramesh cited to ban Bt Brinjal

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  1. The Indian Peninsula, of which Bangladesh is a part, is the Centre of Origin of Brinjal. There are over 2500 varieties of brinjal in this region, of which only some have been domesticated and grown in the area for food while the others grow in the wild. It is well known that internationally (with 160 countries participating ), it had been agreed that Bt and /or HT transgenics should not be grown in the regions of their Centre of origin . The basis of this is to avoid contamination, pollen and gene flow leading to physical and genetic contamination, a situation, practically that cannot be reversed. The situation of Bt/HT transgenic canola grown in Canada and adopted by farmers is an example that today the emergence of weeds has practically no ready solution and have become a very serious problem for Canada. This can simply be checked using Google, “the status of weeds in Canada following the introduction of GM canola” . It must be noted that Canada has very large farm holdings with over 70 percent above 500 acres and a large number above 1000 and even 2000 acres.In contrast , the Indian continent India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have on average about 3 acres with a large number being less than 1 acre. There is no chance of avoiding contamination and gene transfer in case of Bt brinjal for the fact that neither there is awareness amongst farmer nor it is feasible due to very small ( average less than 3 acres ), in due course of time , this Natural wealth of abundant germ plasm of this high biodiversity region , that cannot be created and once the contamination and gene transfer takes place cannot reversed will be lost forever.
    Mexico is believed to be the Centre of origin of Maize and a big controversy had arisen , finally if my memory does not fail, it was decided not to grow GM maize in the region.
    As mentioned above , it must be noted that Canada has majority of the agriculture farms above 500 acres and even above 1000 acres in certain regions . This allows precautionary measures essential for growing these transgenic crops . It is possible and is being followed in Canada, in USA and also in Brazil and Argentina, because the average farm size ( i.e. land holding per farmer) is between 200 to over 1000 acres each. Thus , the precautionary approach of keeping adequate distance between GM ( essentially BT and HT transgenics ) is possible . The is essential as mentioned above to avoid contamination, gene transfer from the GM to the non-GM crops . Even then , it has not been possible to avoid contamination. In the recent past contamination of corn by transgenic corn was discovered in Latin America either in Brazil or Argentina and the Company Bayer ( formerly Monsanto, if I remember ) had to pay millions of Dollars as compensation. Such cases are not rare but not reported , particularly in the developing world . The several instances of contamination and gene transfer having taken place in agriculture landscape where transgeics are being grown have been published in referred journals by several geneticists and is a natural phenomenon.
    The United States of America, the largest grower of GM food grains, is not a Centre of origin of any major food crops such as Corn, Canola etc. However, cotton Wild relatives have been found in certain areas therefore, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the regulator does not allow growing of transgenic cotton in these areas. It is not a secret , but can be checked on internet by anybody anywhere. These aspects will never be discussed or brought out in public domain by Bayer /Monsanto and surprisingly being totally ignored by the Regulatory body and strangely by the scientific community , indeed an unfortunate situation.
    The important issue of not growing GM crops in the Centre of origin is being violated primarily under the sponsorship of Bayer ( formerly Monsanto ) , the Cornell University and their local associates . This has caused a great risk of contamination of the brinjal germ plasm and more importantly a major issue of gene transfer, that was ignored when the Regulatory body that had approved the introduction of Bt Brinjal in India . When several scientists from within and interestingly abroad who have long experience and are recognized as outstanding contributors in this very field of science expressed their concern not only in writing to the Minister Jai Ram Ramesh who had finally blocked the introduction of Bt-brinjal in Indian agriculture , despite the so called Apex Regulatory System ( GEAC , RCGM and two so called Expert Committees) finding BtBrinjal to be environmentally benign and safe to be grown in Indian agriculture. The scientists from the University of Pondicherry in collaboration with a US scientist have found that Bt brinjal hybridizes with non-GM wild relatives of brinjal and this work has been published in International reputed journals. Thus . there is a very serious concern about the gene transfer in the real life agriculture field situation in Bangladesh and even adjoin parts of India.
    Further Bangadesh is the only nation in the world where a GM vegetable , a whole food, is being fed to the people of all age groups . It must be understood that vegetables like brinjal, fruits , grains and pulses are eaten as whole food , thus whatever is present in the crop is eaten by the consumer . We often discuss about chemical pesticides as contaminants , which can be washed , except the part that has been absorbed by the food grain or else. However , no chemical change is induced in the composition of the food . However, in GM food , such as Bt brinjal the biopesticide (Bt protein) becomes an internal part of each cell of the food , brinjal in the present case and is consumed along with the food. The promoters will say there is no difference between Bt and Non Bt brinjal , but it’s not true. Further, the GM brinjal fruit in addition to the Bt protein which is expressed in each cell contains the genes (DNA) for Bt , the highly opportunistic Cauliflower Mosaic Viral promoter and at least two antibiotic resistance markers . Thus, the two Bt- and non-Bt brinjal are not same but different . There are clear compositional differences between Bt- and non- Bt brinjal as revealed by the data in the dossier of Bt brinjal submitted by the developer to the Indian Regulatory body.
    The most outstanding and baffling feature of the Bt brinjal story in India that made headlines about a decade back not only in India but globally, since it was for the first time that a GM vegetable, a whole food was to be consumed by the people , was related to its safety . The regulatory system found it safe for human consumption , totally in contrast to the data presented in the dossier and reflected an utter failure of science, essentially “the Indian Regulatory system” . The data tables on the safety of Bt brinjal given orally to rats showed clearly that feeding of BT brinjal is not safe but harmful causing several changes in health parameters , establishing that consumption of Bt brinjal is not safe but harmful for human health . The women are far more vulnerable compared to men as shown by several health parameters inflicting changes in blood , organ weights and others . The most serious health effects report was the impact, if I remember correctly was a very high reduction, almost 50 % in the weight of the ovary in rats fed Bt brinjal compared to those given normal non Bt brinjal. This has serious concerns about the female endocrine physiology , the fertility or the child bearing ability.
    One of the serious aspects of safety of GM foods is that the safety studies are conducted only in grown up rats of the age beginning from 4 to 6 weeks and fed for abbot 12 to 14 days, thus largely in adults . It is in contrast to the fact that food is consumed by all age groups , the younger age group , the children, the old and more importantly the pregnant women, physiologically the most vulnerable group to nutritional or any other stress.
    The story can go on and on but to summarize the above growing of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh or the adjoining region is unscientific, unethical, in violation of the International obligations and what is currently practiced in USA, or Canada itself .
    Ask these people , the Bayer, or the Cornell university scientists (i) why Americas are not growing GM(Bt/HT transgenics ) vegetables , (ii) ask them what are the regulatory considerations imposed by EPA , the regulator regarding growing GM food crops in field (iii) what is size of the farms in USA (iv) ask them , please tell us which GM crop is consumed as whole food like brinjal by its people in USA (V) finally ask them the evidence that how much of these transgenic foods but for canola oil ( which is refined and purified before use ) are consumed by the American people or majority of these transgenics go for animal feed ( not as human food) and the animals or the cattle are the main food for the Americans .
    Ask them why over two dozens of European countries, Russians , Japanese are not consuming GM food as whole food like we the Bangladeshis are being fed our Begun ( brinjal ) the crop with very large varieties and even the larger preparations and recipes including Begun Bhaja.
    P S Chauhan

    • All farming of every sort is against nature. Ever since the day man tamed fire we have been violating natural laws. no food we eat has not been altered vastly over the last 10,000 years. You make no valid point. The larger human populations grow, the more we need modern farming technology to survive.

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