The supporters of Bt brinjal, who entered the hall shouting “We want Bt
brinjal” were soon engulfed by those who turned out in 1000’s to oust the
Monsanto company and its Bt brinjal. Masses of farmer groups, activists,
non-governmental organizations, and even consumers all raised as one ‘Bt
brinjal go back’ and ‘Monsanto go back’.
The presiding Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh, immediately took over the floor,
heard from all, first the farmers, then the scientists. After which he
heard from representatives of various agricultural universities, doctors
both Ayurvedic and Allopathic and finally from the NGOs working for
agriculture. Of the 35 farmers and farmer unions, 17 were for GM while 18
others opposed it. Among the 27 Scientists and Researchers who spoke, 18
supported the anti GM cause. The five speakers of the NGO section also
joined the cry against GM. The Students and Consumers felt ignored as they
were not given an opportunity to voice their opinion.
From the farmers group the first speaker was Kodihalli Chadrasekhar of the
Raitha Sangha, he said that Bt Brinjal had not been assessed for its very
need. He stresses that no one can claim that it is to address food security
concerns. Further he questioned the necessity for introduction of Bt
brinjal, when safer, affordable, sustainable and farmer-controlled
alternatives existed for pest management. He also pointed out that the
government which did not have any policy with respect to the development of
GM crops, allowed the entry of Bt Brinjal, very well knowing that it will
kill the diversity of Brinjal. No GM crop has been allowed to be cultivated
in any region of the world which is its Centre of Origin and India being the
centre of origin of brinjal should not be any different. Later Puttannaiah
said that there were more than 2500 varieties of brinjals, each having its
own unique flavour and used in different specialities, in India diversity in
traditional food preparations exists because of availability in the variety
of brinjal, so the Bt would be advantageous to a country like US having a
Ms. Sunanda, a woman farmer asked the Minster if any of the women farmers
had approached the government requesting Bt crops, so why is the Government
keen on introducing the same.
The farmers who spoke in favour cited pesticides as a serious problem and
had to spray atleast 20 to 30 times and this had ruined them. It was the
introduction of Bt cotton that has benefited them and the pesticide spray
has been reduced to 3-4 sprays. It was the pesticide that was responsible
for farmer suicides and Bt cotton saved them. So the Government should not
delay the introduction of Bt brinjal.
The first speaker in the Scientist category was very rude in his
presentation and immediately the Minster apologized on behalf of the
scientist. He said that Scientist should not be anti democratic and science
should teach humility. He especially asked scientists and experts to speak
not from a political position, but to share their findings and expertise to
the general public. Interesting was the objection for introduction of Bt.
Brinjal raised by an Ex Monsanto Director. He said that the Bt crop after 5
generations would develop resistance to the pest and led to outbreak of new
pests for which the pesticide sprays would increase simultaneously
increasing income of the manufacturing company.
Prof G K Veeresh, former VC of UAS, Bangalore said that there should be a
delay in introduction of Bt Brinjal into the country for another 10 to 15
years as the bio-safety had not been established. Several tests should be
conducted to resolve doubts raised by various experts on GM foods crops.
Scientist from Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Bangalore said
that the team has developed a Bt brinjal variety using Bt gene and the
trails are in advanced stage. He also pointed out that the trails proved
satisfactory. Sugada Mohandas of the same Institute pointed out that there
was a misapprehension about Bt crops regarding the safety on consumption and
also on the seeds. She said that the crop was developed in such a way that
the farmers need not buy seeds for every sowing.
The team from UAS, Dharwad with the Vice Chancellor present there said that
the university with technology made available by Mahyco has been conducting
research on bt. Brinjal from 2002 and has cultivated six varieties of
pest-resistant brinjals. Usually about 40 to 50 chemical sprays were
required to control the fruit-shoot borer pest, but for the Bt crop which
has been developed controls the targeted pest with just one or two sprays.
There would be no shoot infestations in the Bt varieties that are being
cultivated by the University. He said that the Bt brinjal will be a
marketable product and would also fetch a good market price whereas the non
Bt brinjal that the farmer is now producing hardly fetches him Rs.2, for all
the hard work put into producing brinjal is not worth it as the produce
doesnot remain fresh for more than two to three days. There is much
discussion on the Cry protein of Bt crops saying it was harmful for human
consumption, but this has absolutely safe on human beings and non-target
pests, he added.
Dr. Vijayan of Kerala Biodiversity Board posed several questions to the
Minister on the benefit of introduction of Bt brinjal, on the safety of the
Bt crop, its impact on biodiversity and so on. He said that many scientists
in the country were expressing their deep concern over Bt Brinjal. He
stressed that several eminent scientists abroad had pointed out that
independent and rigorous scientific evaluation of Bt Brinjal has not taken
place and that this GM vegetable should not be allowed entry into India. He
concluded on “why the Bt brinjal has to be tested on Indians”
During the proceedings, Dr. A. S. Ananda, Chairman of the Organic Farming
Mission of Government of Karnataka made a categorical assertion that the
entire consultation mechanism was a farce as MoEF had dropped 190 plants
from the protection of the Biodiversity Act. This included Brinjal and
almost all endemic varieties that constitute the genetic wealth of India.
Mr. Ramesh later claimed that the fact that these 190 plants had been
removed from the protection accorded by the Biodiversity Act was only to
facilitate their exports. Dr. Ananda also said that the state Government
will not allow cultivation of the genetically modified brinjal or any of the
GM crops as the safety of the produce was not yet established.
Mr. Sridhar of Thanal, Kerala said that it has been documented in the case
of Bt Cotton that chemical fertilizer use had gone up, even as pesticide use
profile had changed. There was more increase in the volume of usage of
chemicals. The pesticide shift was of high value with the overall cost
incurred on pesticides being quite high in Bt Cotton. This does not augur
well for sustainability of farming resources and livelihoods even as cost of
cultivation is going to increase for farmers with technologies like GM
Claude Alvare s – spoke about Bio-piracy and asked the University team on
how they had accessed the seeds of indigenous varieties of brinjal without
the permission of the farmers. He also said that for organic farmers, GM
crops spell a bleak and grim future. Organic farming certification standards
do not permit the use of GMOs. Genetically modified agriculture is replacing
farmer-generated seeds with corporate owned seeds.
One of the farmers questioned the morality of the Government because on one
hand they are promoting organic farming and on the other hand introducing
GM, which will bear effect on the organically produced crops due cross
pollination. This will thereby destroy the bio-diversity of the region. He
stressed that once the bt brinjal is commercialised, then there will be no
mechanism by which a consumer could distinguish between a regular brinjal
and GM brinjal, thereby killing the consumer choice forever.
The Consultation witnessed the participation of former Prime Minister Mr. H.
D. Devegowda and Jnanpita awardee, Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy, who was anti to
introduction of Bt brinjal. After hearing a large number of farmers,
scientists, doctors, representatives of NGOs for more than three hours, the
Minister said that he would announce his decision on the first GM food crop
in the country on February 10. He said that “My decision won’t be influenced
by any quarter, including scientists, NGOs, agriculture universities or
Monsanto. Neither is there any pressure from the PMO nor the Prime Minister.
My decision will be fair and judicious, and will be based purely on the
outcome of consultations. My decision would make some happy and the rest
unhappy, but I will surely decide in the favour of the country,” he said.