Bt Brinjal – the war goes on

Pro Bt Brinjal group releases a report challenging contention that the vegetable is used in medicine

 
By Jyotika Sood
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

With the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRAI) expected to be tabled in Lok Sabha during the monsoon session, there are hectic parleys going outside the Parliament. On one hand the biotech industry with support from government scientists are pitching for the release of Bt brinjal while anti-GM activists are making all efforts to oppose the same.

Starting the war this week was C Kameswara Rao, convener of Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), who held a press conference in Delhi on September 5 demanding the government to lift moratorium over Bt brinjal. He released a report “Use of Brinjal in Alternative Systems of Medicine in India” in the presence of P Ananda Kumar, director of the National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

 brinjal

In his report, Rao mentions that brinjal is generally not used as a medicine. The anti-GM activists and non-profits have till now contended that since brinjal is used as a medicine, Bt genes should no be introduced in it.

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Rao says that brinjal belongs to the botanical group Solanum, but there research has found only some wild species of Solanum are used in Indian medicine systems like ayurveda, siddha, unani and homoeopathy. “Brinjal, raw or processed, is not used in any of the Indian systems of medicine. In fact, every system has indicated certain negative effects of brinjal including its allergic potential. “The siddha system prohibits its consumption in certain disease conditions,” Rao claims. Thus the assumption that transgenic Bt gene affects synergy in medicine is inaccurate and irrelevant, he adds.

 brinjal


The mention of some insignificant uses of brinjal as medicine was probably based on texts of classical medicine compiled centuries ago. These uses are no longer relevant as the present day cultivated brinjal has undergone extensive genetic modification in conventional breeding, Rao contends. “Bt brinjal does not pose any threat to the use of non-Bt brinjal in medicine, as the scope for gene flow from Bt brinjal to non-Bt brinjal is almost non-existent,” he adds.

He criticised the government’s decision of imposing a moratorium on Bt brinjal and said it was affecting research in the biotechnology sector.

 brinjal


However, a biotechnology scientist, on condition of anonymity, said Rao through his report was trying to deflect from the issue of biosafety of Bt brinjal. “It would have been better if Rao had come out with a report addressing biosafety issues in this press conference, rather than answering the propaganda of brinjal use in Indian medicine.”

The anti-GM group lead by Greenpeace on September 6 cooked the world's largest baingan ka bharta to register their protest to the GM crops. The campaign was supported by a dozen outfits including Bhartiya Kisan Union and non-profits Navdanya and Collation of GM-free India.

The bharta weighed around 500 kgs and a battery of chefs from Le Meridien hotel lead the cooking of the bharta that has been certified as a record by the Limca Book of Records.

“People have the right to say “no” to GM food and that is exactly what we have done today. We hope that the government would take notice of the voices of its citizens and stop the introduction of the bill which would become a non-transparent, autocratic body and lower the bar for the GM crop approvals,'' says Kapil Mishra, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace India. A delegation of Greenpeace members later submitted a petition signed by over 100,000 people to the Prime Minister's Office against the bill.

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