Bt Brinjal : A Needless Controversy

Before Pune blast and before “ My Name Is Khan ” controversy, Bt brinjal row was ruling and virtually dominating the print and electronic media. And it was just a week back, not months or years. On Tuesday, February 09 Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh addressed a press conference and put a lid on the raging controversy, albeit temporarily.

What is Bt brinjal ?

It is genetically modified food, developed by Indian seed firm Mayhico and its American partner firm Monsanto. They created a new variety of brinjal with a special gene Cry1AC, after 9 years of research. This particular gene Cry1AC makes it poisonous to pests. India’s biotech regulator cleared it on October 14, 2009 and a fierce row on the use of Bt brinjal is raging since then.

This vegetable is grown over 5.5 hectares by lakhs of farmers in India. They started fierce agitation as soon as the news came out that Bt brinjal has been cleared for mass production by Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of India. Eminent scientists, environmentalist and N.G.O.s opposed the GM food, calling it unsafe and not fit for mass consumption. Opposition parties, predictably, jumped into the fray and declared that they won’t allow mass production of Bt brinjal.

It is pertinent to know that Bt brinjal is not the only GM food in the world. In U.S.A. Corn, soyabean and sugar beet are being used. In Canada – Corn and sugar beet and in China – soyabean, rice and potato are widely used. India also is not the exception. Bt cotton was introduced in 2002 in India and results were very satisfying. So why this hue & cry this time? Opponents of Bt brinjal say that enough tests have not been done. That, few tests which were done, were done by the developer of Bt brinjal only. They seem to be biased. So fresh tests are needed. Because of this hue & cry
Government of India imposed moratorium on Bt brinjal till consensus is evolved.

I fail to understand the logic of the opponents of GM food. The scene reminds me of similar outcry during my childhood. Hybrid wheat was introduced in India for the first time. If I am not forgetting, its name was K68. Violent protests, massive procession and pandemonium in both the houses of parliament continued for months. Everyone declared that K68 will ruin India’s biodiversity, that it will ruin India’s agriculture. Though the results were different. From food deficit nation, we became food surplus nation. Slowly people accepted new hybrid wheat variety and gradually many other varieties were introduced. People forgot old indigenous wheat variety. When Jersey cows were introduced in India, clamour for their boycott were heard loudly. Now having a jersey cow is a matter of prestige. I think same will happen to Bt brinjal. It will be accepted by masses, albeit slowly and gradually.

Our basic mind set is against anything new. We don’t easily accept new scientific researches. We detest discoveries. We don’t like adventures. We are xenophobic to the core. We were frightened when trains were introduced during British rule and we refused to commute by it. Initially we hated tea also. So we are loving to hate Bt brinjal. We were forced, only then we accepted trains, tea and new hybrid wheat. Its my opinion that slowly we will accept Bt brinjal also. I am not saying that no fresh researches are needed. But the decision to use or not to use Bt brinjal should be based on scientific research and not on public opinion.



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