Eight States To Hold Field Trials Of Bt Brinjal, Government Says More GM Crops To Protect Farmers' Interest On The Cards

Eight States To Hold Field Trials Of Bt Brinjal, Government Says More GM Crops To Protect Farmers' Interest On The Cards

by M R Subramani - Wednesday, September 16, 2020 03:32 PM IST
Eight States To Hold Field Trials Of Bt Brinjal, Government Says More GM Crops To Protect Farmers' Interest On The Cards
Brinjals in a cart (Representative image/Freepik)
  • Bt brinjal set to be a reality in India as eight States are about to hold biosafety trials of two indigenous varieties over the next three years.

Genetically-modified (GM) or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) brinjal, which is available in neighbouring Bangladesh, will be soon be grown in India too.

This will be possible as biosafety field trials of two indigenously developed Bt brinjal varieties are set to be conducted in eight States during 2020-23, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar told the Lok Sabha yesterday (15 September).

Responding to an unstarred question from YSR Congress Party member Y S Avinash Reddy, the minister said the Union Government, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests had allowed the biosafety field trials of these two varieties.

Though Parliament has no provisions for question hour during the current monsoon session, its members are allowed to raise questions for which written replies are tabled in the respective Houses.

The permission to hold the field trials was given after the eight States said they had no objection to the trials and had isolated stretches of land for the purpose.

The Bt brinjal varieties - Janak and BSS-793 - containing Bt Cry1Fa1 gene have been developed by the National Institute of Plant Biotechnology, an arm of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The New Delhi-based institute was earlier known as the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology.

Bt brinjal can help ward off pest menace and save the growers expenses on pesticides and insecticides since the pests, mainly borers and shoot fly, damage almost 40 per cent of the crop.

Tomar said that the decision to allow the biosafety trials was taken recently. This means it comes on the heels of the 10-year moratorium imposed on GM crops by a technical expert committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court getting over.

The TEC had imposed the moratorium in 2010 and stopped commercialisation of GM crops in the country. The moratorium came after anti-GM activists went to the court against the permission given for the commercial release of a Bt brinjal variety developed by Maharashtra-based seed firm Mahyco.

That variety was developed in collaboration with the Dharwad University of Sciences in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and ICAR-Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi.

The Bt variety, which could ward off the threat of the shoot fly in the crop, was approved by the GEAC in 2009.

Tomar said a GM mustard variety, developed by the Delhi University, is also pending for commercial release. However, the GEAC has asked for generation of additional safety assessment data.

The GEAC is the authorised body in India to allow field trials and commercial release of GM crops.

Different GM crops such as chickpea (chana), pigeonpea (arhar), sorghum, potato, brinjal, tomato and banana are at different stages of development.

The minister said that the government had strict guidelines to test and evaluate the agronomic value of GM crops to protect the interests of farmers. The guidelines addressed all safety concerns of GM seeds.

The regulatory system that is in operation for GM crops considers them on a case-by-cases basis for testing, he added.

The development assumes significance since farmers have been demanding that they be allowed access to the latest crop technologies.

Bangladesh, in fact, began cultivating the Bt Brinjal that was developed for India five years ago and has reported successful adoption by its farmers.

Seeds of the variety have found their way into the country as the Indo-Bangladesh border is porous. Farmers in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Haryana are cultivating it illegally.

The brinjal is sold as seedlings in these States rather than seeds. Growing it is illegal since the variety has not been approved by GEAC for commercial cultivation.

The Narendra Modi government is also under pressure to allow herbicide-tolerant Bt (HTBT) cotton by farmers, mainly in Maharashtra. Growing the variety, which does not allow the growth of weeds in the farm, can help farmers save cultivation costs.

Since growing both Bt brinjal and HTBT cotton are banned, growers have resorted to illegal cultivation and challenged the authorities.

The latest development will now give legal sanctity to cultivating GM crop varieties and provide freedom to farmers to decide what is best for them.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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