Instead of bickering over Bt brinjal, why don’t we put all the facts on the table?
Is it Sharad Pawar, is it Jairam Ramesh, is it Prithviraj Chavan or is it an alien brinjal? Most people would be forgiven for being a little bewildered over the current spat over genetically modified brinjal, or Bt brinjal, given the contradictory signals from the ministries concerned. As things stand now, the vegetable that has been approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee for commercial use awaits a final decision on its safety from the environment minister on February 20. The wrangling over the safety of biotech crops will continue but there are certain irrefutable facts that the public needs to know. These should have been made public and easily available at the outset so that the current mess could have been avoided.
The Bt brinjal has been in the pipeline for over nine years and every conceivable test, including feeding it to animals, has been conducted. India is the second largest brinjal producer in the world with 550,000 hectares under cultivation. The Bt brinjal requires 77 per cent less pesticides than the normal variety and is 98 per cent insect resistant. This means a much higher yield for farmers who grow this low-calorie, high-nutrition vegetable. The experiment with Bt cotton has been highly successful in India with the country moving from being an importer to an exporter. Farmers in many parts that cultivate transgenic cotton have reported an almost doubling of yields. Now it may be argued that cotton is not edible. But with India being a party to the Convention on Biodiversity that mandates that all genetically modified crops be subject to stringent safety tests, the margin for error is negligible. The high price of GM seeds is often cited as a problem. But then, what is lost on the roundabouts is more than made up on the swings with the farmer being assured of his harvest, getting a higher yield, better quality and a better price.
Instead of getting bogged down over Bt brinjal, we ought to be looking at widening the scope of technology to improve the lot of our farmers. Next on the agenda should be saline- and drought-resistant crops that could address the issue of food security. But at every step the facts and figures should be made widely available, to put an end to scare-mongering and posturing by the anti-GM lobby. And, most of all, the public must know the views of the farmer, who is the most affected by this issue. So far, they are more than satisfied with the progress of this technology. After all, they’ve put their money where our mouths are.