Civil society groups in Rajasthan have strongly protested against the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recommending commercial cultivation of genetically modified Bt Brinjal, saying its large-scale production would lead to gene pollution by contamination of other varieties. They have also questioned the haste in the whole process of approval.

The Food, Trade and Nutrition Coalition (FTN-Asia), Kisan Seva Samiti Mahasangh and Pairvi said in a joint statement here that there are several “unresolved issues” surrounding the environmental release of the transgenic vegetable as well as valid concerns over its safety for human consumption. They called for an immediate high-level review of the matter.

Demanding that a legal regime be put in place for regulating the genetic modification experiments, the civil society groups feared that the farmers would be driven into heavy debts with the use of GM seeds and their failure. For the consumers, too, it was a serious question whether they needed a vegetable with pesticide properties, they said.

The statement was signed by FTN-Asia patron Sharad Joshi, Pairvi director Ajay Jha, Kisan Seva Samiti Mahasangh secretary Bhagwan Sahai and Jaipur-based Institute of Development Studies director Surjit Singh.

According to the statement, the clearance for the GM version of brinjal is a disaster for India as it was the centre of origin of brinjal with a number of wild varieties existing in different parts of the country, many of which had medicinal value. It said thousands of petitions signed by farmers and consumers had been sent to the Union Government in this regard.

“For the proponents of GM food, the advantages are many; but the costs are also high. The farmers will undoubtedly be driven to the wall with unpaid loans,” warned the statement. It also raised the issue of accountability and pointed out that while earlier the universities or seed corporations could be held responsible, it was now a “grey area”.

The civil society groups pointed out that the green signal given by GEAC to Bt Brinjal would open the door to a number of other crops such as rice, corn, cabbage and bhindi, waiting for the committee’s approval. “The worst part is that the GM variety will look like the normal brinjal and will not be labelled as there is hardly any labelling process existing in the country.”

Bt Brinjal contains a gene from bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin that kills the pest when it feeds on the crop. The GM researchers claim that this will reduce the use of pesticide in the crop and control the infestation of fruit and shoot borer.

The statement, on the other hand, said several independent studies in rat had shown that Bt Brinjal produces allergic tendencies, antibiotic resistance and internal organ damage. Referring to the allergic reactions reported by cotton farmers in the Bt Cotton fields, it said Bt Cotton was a fibre crop, whereas Bt Brinjal would be a food crop consumed directly by lakhs of people across the country