Bt brinjal: Stunted in India, to grow in Bangladesh

Even as the Supreme Court is hearing a petition on allowing even field-trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops in the country, neighbouring Bangladesh is set to allow farmers grow transgenic Bt brinjal.Ironically, the Bt brinjal varieties approved for commercial cultivation by Bangladesh’s National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) are based on technology developed and transferred by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Pvt Ltd (Mahyco). Commercialisation of Bt brinjal in India was halted by a ‘moratorium’ imposed by former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
The NCB (the Bangladeshi equivalent of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) has approved four Bt brinjal varieties developed by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), incorporating Mahyco’s proprietary gene construct technology.
“We have not yet received any letter or proceedings of the NCB meeting on Monday. We are expecting the letter within a day or two,” said Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal, Director-General of BARI, in an e-mailed response to Business Line.
Mahyco had transferred its Bt brinjal technology to BARI in 2005-06 through a USAID-funded and Cornell University-managed ‘Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project’.
Bt brinjal contains a foreign ‘Cry1Ac’ gene derived from a soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. This gene synthesises a protein toxic to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) pest. Its incorporation gives brinjal a ‘built-in’ resistance to FSB, reducing the need for spraying pesticides.
Mahyco sourced the ‘cry1Ac’ gene construct for its Bt brinjal from Monsanto, the US life-sciences major, which also has a 26 per cent stake in the former. But the entire transformation, which means fitting the gene construct in the right place of the brinjal genome, was done at Mahyco’s research centre at Jalna, Maharashtra. The ownership of the entire ‘event’ as such vests with Mahyco.
“It is Indian technology that has seen the light of the day in Bangladesh,” said Bhagirath Chowdhary, India representative of the GM lobby group, International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications or ISAAA.
“We are yet to see the details. In the event of approval, it will be good for the farmers of Bangladesh, as it will minimise the use of pesticides to a great extent,” said Appemane Subbarao, a Senior Vice-President at Mahyco.
However, the anti-GM lobby believes that the latest development in Bangladesh does not augur well for India. “There have been contradictory news reports on this but if Bangladesh goes ahead with the commercialisation of Bt Brinjal, it poses a threat to the entire Indo-China region, which is considered the centre of origin and diversity of this vegetable” said Neha Saigal, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
The next hearing in the apex court is scheduled on November 19. – Businessline via Google