GM mustard effect: Private firm now seeks Bt brinjal trials

Maharashtra-based seed company has developed 2 Bt brinjal varieties, offers resistance to pests

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 06 January 2023
The brinjal varieties are developed by Bejo Sheetal through crop breeding techniques. Photo: iStock
The brinjal varieties are developed by Bejo Sheetal through crop breeding techniques. Photo: iStock The brinjal varieties are developed by Bejo Sheetal through crop breeding techniques. Photo: iStock

A private company based in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra has sought biosafety trials of its Bt brinjal crop varieties from a university in Karnataka. 

The move comes right after genetically modified (GM) mustard received the Centre’s environmental clearance. The approval received severe backlash, with the critics pointing out how little we know about the long-term effects of GM crops. 

Bejo Sheetal Seeds Pvt Ltd, a Jalna-based company located about 60 km from Aurangabad, has created first-filial generation hybrid brinjal varieties called Janak and BSS 793. 

Read more: GM mustard: Need to address economic issues of using the crop

Down To Earth reached out to Bejo Sheetal via email. The brinjal varieties are developed through crop breeding techniques and perform better than its natural varieties with better quality, uniformity and yield, claimed Nandkumar Kunchge, director Bejo Sheetal. 

“Bt varieties of Janak and BSS 793 are developed using the transgenic technology developed by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). It used Bt gene Cry1Fa1 gene, which IARI which IARI has patented,” Kunchge said. 

The company has requested University of Horticulture Sciences, Bagalkote, Karnataka, to conduct the tests. 

Bejo Sheetal licensed the technology in 2005, the director said. It is specifically developed for resistance against insect pests like shoot and fruit borer Leucinodes orbonalis

The resistance in varieties is reported up to 97 per cent. “It means if you pick up 100 fruits, 97 are marketable without any damage,” he said. 

Shoot borer insects can cause losses of over 88 per cent of crops, which can reach up to 95 per cent in the rainy season. In general, losses range from 11-93 per cent of the production, Kunchge said.

“The introduction of GM variety will help to control the number of sprays required, ranging from 23-140, which is more than 35-40 per cent of the production cost. It also costs an average of Rs 35,000 per hectare,” he added. 

Read more: Genetically modifying mosquitoes to control the spread of disease carries unknown risks

The hybrid varieties will protect consumers from pesticide residues, Kunchge claimed. “About 14 per cent of pesticides in India are used on vegetable crops and in brinjals, active ingredients of insecticides of 4.6 kilograms per hectare are reported, according to Indian Council of Agricultural Research,” he said. 

“Over-spraying leads to insecticidal residues reported in 9.5 per cent of the samples above the minimum residual level. These are harmful and cause many chronic diseases like cancer. The Bt brinjal variety will help to combat such toxic chemicals,” he added. 

If the request for testing hybrid brinjal varieties is accepted, the company will approach the biotechnology regulator in India, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), for trial guidelines.

“If we get the guidelines in time, then trials will be undertaken in the Kharif season in a hectare area by the university under the supervision of a designated scientist or crop breeder. Seed requirement will be estimated after GEAC approves the trial plan,” he said. 

The company has sought permission to undertake tests in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal as well. “We wish to undertake the trials in different agroclimatic zones. It depends on permissions and brinjal growing areas,” Kunchge said. 

Read more: GM mustard will obliterate honey bees: Apiculturists protest Central decision in Bharatpur

The central government imposed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal in 2011 and recommended 10 years of field trials. 

The moratorium was only on commercialisation, not research or trials, Kunchge claimed. “We approached GEAC and got the permission to conduct trials in these states in May 2020,” he said.

The central government’s approval for GM mustard for environmental clearance has raised hopes for smoother acceptance and implementation of GM crops, the director further said. “We were continuously following up even during the moratorium period,” he said. 

There was no response from the University of Horticulture Sciences on the issue at the time of publishing this report. 

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