MANMADHAN NAIR T. S.
The official countdown for the commercial release of Bt. brinjal has started, even as the apprehensions raised by the scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and ultimately crores of people who will bear the brunt remain unaddressed. The introduction of Bacillus thuringiensis brinjal (Bt. brinjal) will have a far-reaching, serious impact, with its ramifications extending to the domains of human health, medicine, economy and environment.
Brinjal is a vital ingredient in many Ayurvedic preparations. The traditional varieties called ‘Swetha Brihati' (S olanum toruva) and ‘Cheruvazhuthana' (S olanum indicum) are integral to Ayurvedic medicines as ‘Dashamoola Chavanaprasa' and ‘Pippalayadi.' Brinjal is highly effective in the treatment of digestive, respiratory and other ailments. In this context, the apprehension raised by Ayurvedic physicians, in particular, and the common man, in general, that with the commercial release of Bt. brinjal, the traditional ones would become a rarity is quite genuine. For, experiences with the hybrid varieties (both plants and animals) — which are, no doubt, robust and high-yielding — are that the traditional ones are marginalised by the new-comer. A kind of grass known as ‘Karuka' ( Lachi pullu) is almost extinct, with people preferring an ‘ornamental' grass called ‘Lawn Grass,' used in gardens and courtyards, to the former. A fine water plant, ‘Kudapayal' (P istia sparatiotes), which was found in ponds, brooks and lagoons of Kerala and used as a good manure, has now disappeared with the arrival of a new invader called ‘African Payal' ( Salvina molesta). What is more, a variety of brinjal itself ( Solanum melongena) is on the verge of extinction.
Numerous examples of this type of intrusions, allowed by man, with or without the awareness of the adverse impact, leading to the marginalisation or even extinction of some of the good ones around, both in the plant and animal kingdom, can be cited. The entire flora and fauna on the planet is interdependent; so is the fact that the ecological balance would be adversely affected in the event of depletion or extinction of any one species or a particular variety of it.
The issue of Bt. brinjal is far more significant than any of these, because it not only affects the other varieties of brinjal but can cause serious harm to human beings as well. As for the toxin content, the revelations of the European and American scientists aired in their papers and submitted to the Genetical Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) and the science journal, Nature, are appalling. According to them, the experiments conducted with Bt. brinjal on living things such as rats, goats and cows revealed a host of problems — adverse changes in the physical metabolism, change in the blood-clotting time, decrease in liver weight, reduction in water intake, decrease in appetite, non-responsiveness to antibiotics and occurrence of diarrhoea. The Body of Doctors for Food and Bio Safety, which had sent its findings to the GEAC, objected to the introduction of the new brinjal.
Brinjal being a regular food item in India, the threat is all the more real and immediate.