How safe is GM Brinjal?

A REPORT in a local daily on Thursday said Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has started distributing saplings of the country’s first genetically modified (GM) Brinjal (Bt) to farmers. Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury launched the commercial distribution of the saplings to 20 farmers from four regions at a programme at the BARI premises in the city. We believe that the introduction of the new brinjal variety would increase its productivity and reduce waste to help the nation achieving food security to one step ahead. But environmentalists are equally opposed to it on biodiversity issue.
As the report said, Bangladesh has now joined a group of 29 countries that grows GM crops. The National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) on October last gave approval to the newly developed GM brinjal varieties-BARI Bt Brinjal-1 (Uttara), BARI Bt Brinjal-2 (Kajla), BARI Bt Brinjal-3 (Nayontara) and BARI Bt Brinjal-4 (ISD006) after over seven years of laboratory and field-level experiments and also clearing legal problems. Scientists of BARI engineered the GM brinjal, one of the country’s most consumed vegetables by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) to it taken from the soil bacterium in 2005. The insertion of crystal protein makes the brinjal highly resistant to FSB that causes 50 to 70 percent loss of harvest. It means that the new crop would not require use of pesticides in which a commercial farmer spends at least Tk 8,000 to 10,000 in a year.
But the GM Brinjal is also facing resistance from environmentalist groups. They have raised protest against the release of the crop fearing the loss of crop biodiversity and farmers’ rights on seeds. Breeders, however, dismissed the fear saying that the cultivation of Bt Brinjal would help farmers to stay away from health hazards and save money they spend on spraying pesticides. Besides, they are free to save seeds from their products.
As the report said commercial sale of genetically modified foods began in 1994 in the West, when a firm called Calgene first marketed its delayed ripening tomato. The practice is on rise ever since inviting equal opposition to the GM crops on health and other environmental ground.
However, there is broad scientific consensus that food on the market derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food. No reports of ill effects have been documented in human population from GM food so far. We are moreover assured by various advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, The Non-GMO Project and Organic Consumers Association that the risks of GM food have not been adequately identified while questioning the objectivity of different regulatory authorities which are slowing the use of the crop if not altogether blocking it.
Scientists are of the opinion that only 20 years of the life of GM crops is not enough to figure out its final effects on the human population, if at all it is harmful to them. So in Bangladesh we believe that we may go without hesitation to utilize the crop at a time when our population size is quite huge to feed them with enough supply at a cheaper cost.