From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : GMO
Mains level : Concerns related to Bt Brinjal need to be addressed.
A month ago, Bt brinjal genetically modified (GM) to resist the brinjal fruit and shoot borer (an insect), was found growing illegally in Haryana. This was a different Bt brinjal from the one developed by the Indian company.Even as the government clamped down on the illegal GM crop, some farmer groups have demanded the release of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal and other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline. But is Bt brinjal actually ready for release?
1.Effect on prices, consumer and farmers’ income
- The National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research anticipates that if Bt brinjal performs as Mahyco proposes, brinjal output will increase and retail prices will fall, benefiting consumers far more than farmers.
- The report ignores the scenario that companies might charge premium prices for Bt brinjal seeds, in which case farmers may not benefit at all.
- The Dr. Y.S.R. Horticultural University highlighted crucial deficiencies in the characterisation of Bt brinjal, and in the environmental impacts assessment.
- The ecologist, Madhav Gadgil, warned of contamination of India’s diverse brinjal varieties.
- Biodiversity is critical for nutrition and sustainability, and the government’s own task force on biotechnology (2004) had recommended that no GM crop be allowed in biodiversity-rich areas.
- Further, a majority of the technical expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court (in the public interest litigations over GM crops), recommended a ban on genetically modifying those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity. Brinjal happens to be such a crop.
Many health researchers and professionals, and scientists such as immunologist have argued that Bt brinjal poses risks to human health.
4.Responses from government
- Bt brinjal found no support from State governments. Kerala and Uttarakhand asked for a ban on GM crops.
- States with substantial brinjal cultivation, i.e. West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar opposed the release pending rigorous, extensive testing.
- As did Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and undivided Andhra Pradesh.
- In 2012 and 2017, respectively, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Science & Technology, Environment and Forests assessed the GM controversy.
- Both committees expressed grave concerns about lapses in the regulatory system.
- In fact, the Committee on Agriculture was so alarmed by the irregularities in the assessment of Bt brinjal, that it recommended “a thorough probe by a team of eminent independent scientists and environmentalists”, which never happened.
- Further, both committees endorsed labelling GM foods to protect a consumer’s right to know.
5.No scientific consensus
- In recent years, pests have developed resistance to Bt cotton, forcing farmers to spray lethal pesticides.
- This led to over 50 deaths by pesticide-poisoning in Vidarbha in 2017.
- A GM-based strategy of pest control is unsustainable, all the more so since farmers, already pressed for land, ignore the government’s recommendation to plant refuge crops.
- The problem of sustainable, remunerative farming has become more acute, and alternative strategies such as organic and zero budget natural farming, which do not allow GM seeds, are gaining ground.
- Must detail the steps it has taken since 2010 to address the scientific lacunae.
- Clarify precisely how Bt brinjal will benefit farmers
- Put the infrastructure to ensure labelling into place
- Demonstrate how Bt brinjal fits in with sustainable farming and biodiversity conservation.
As things stand, Bt brinjal runs counter to the framework for agricultural development and farmers’ well-being devised by parliamentary panels and the government’s own task forces and expert committees.