Several farmer leaders have sought the intervention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reject the recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercial release of Bt brinjal.
Speaking to journalists here Rakesh Tikait of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, Yudhvir Singh of the Coordination Committee of Indian Farmers’ Movements, Vijay Jawandhia of Shetkari Sanghatan, Vidarbha, Kodihalli Chandrasekhar of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Kannaiyan of Tamizhaga Vyavasayigal Sangham and G.V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said they had jointly sought an appointment with the Prime Minister to impress upon him to reject Bt brinjal.
“We will meet State Chief Ministers and political leaders and apprise them of the consequences of introducing Bt brinjal in the country of its origin. Introduction of Bt Brinjal in India will not only destroy the country’s biodiversity but we will lose our traditional seeds as we have begun to lose our traditional seeds in cotton. The manner in which transgenic seeds are being introduced in the country without any measures to prevent contamination or study consequences, a day will come when we will lose indigenous seeds,” they said.
The farmer leaders plan to launch a country-wide agitation to create awareness about transgenic food crops.
Mr. Jawandhia said brinjal, which is grown in abundance in India, is used as fodder for cows and buffaloes too. What effect transgenic brinjal will have on cattle and children and humans who consume their milk is not known. There is no study on that. “Originally, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) was an external spray, used to control pests in agriculture crops, with a warning written on it: Keep away from children as it causes allergies. The Bt gene in brinjal is several times more concentrated. The bacterium produces a crystal protein toxin that destroys the digestive system of the pest. What effect it will have on humans on a long-term is not known. Certainly, it is not the need of the farmers or consumers. It is the need of the multi-national companies that want to control the seeds and to make profits.”
Return to non-Bt cotton
According to Mr. Singh, farmers are well-versed in managing pests. New pests like the millibug have afflicted the Bt cotton crop in the country, even while bollworm problems remains. Farmers, therefore, have started returning to non-Bt cotton. In Punjab, after farmers observed skin diseases, which they attributed to Bt cotton, they are moving away from transgenic cotton.
Mr. Singh said there were no studies on how a gene (Bt) that destroys the gut of the pest would affect humans if consumed directly (as in Bt brinjal) or indirectly as in Bt cotton. It was observed that the sheep let off to feed on cotton stalks do not enter Bt cotton fields.