Even as the bio-technology regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has given the green signal for the environmental release of Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop to be allowed in the country, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University is awaiting the government nod for releasing four varieties of Bt brinjal developed by it.
They are, Co2-Bt, MDU1-Bt, KKM1-Bt and PLR-1-Bt.
Vice-Chancellor P. Murugesa Boopathy told The Hindu that the university was involved in the development of Bt brinjal for the past six years. “The difference between the university and other developers is that we have developed varieties whereas others have developed hybrids. As we are releasing varieties, their seeds can be saved by farmers for sowing in the next season. Thus, there is no necessity for them to obtain the seed from companies.”
He said brinjal was an important cash crop benefiting poor and marginal farmers. It was cultivated on over 5.1 lakh ha with an annual production of about 8.2 million tonnes. In Tamil Nadu, it was cultivated over 7,676 ha with an annual production of 82,049 metric tonnes. The average productivity was 10.69 metric tonnes per hectare.
Dr. Boopathy said this crop suffered immensely because of attack by insects — fruit and shoot borer — at times causing 70 per cent damage. As traditional management strategies had failed, farmers relied heavily on chemical pesticides. “Unfortunately, they resort to indiscriminate application of pesticides to ensure a good harvest, which has led to harmful effects on environment and the health of farmers and consumers.”
Explaining how Bt brinjal could effectively combat fruit and shoot borer, he said it imparted resistance and effectively controlled the larvae. The young larvae died as soon as they bit the tissues.
Bio safety tests
“The Bt brinjal has undergone rigorous bio safety tests and has been found to be safe for human beings, animals and the environment.” Besides, the Bt crop would require just a few pesticide applications during early stages. As they were free from pesticide residues, they were safe for human consumption.