Over 100 civil society organisations representing farmers, indigenous communities, consumers, women, scientists, and/or promoting sustainable development and biosafety have written a letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The letter opposes commercialisation of a genetically modified (GM) eggplant.
Known locally as Bt-Brinjal, the GM eggplant contains a synthetic insect-killing toxin similar to Cry1Ac from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (hence the acronym Bt) targeted at the fruit and shoot borer. Bt toxins are already known to have many off-target effects, including toxicity to beneficial pest predators, animals and human cells.
According to Dr Mae-Wan Ho from the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), the Bt Brinjal approved for commercial growing in Bangladesh originated from Mahyco-Monsanto, but the varieties approved were developed by scientists in Bangladesh.
The company tried to commercialize Bt Brinjal in India several years ago, but failed. The risk-assessment dossier submitted by the company essentially contained no studies on biosafety, which was brought to light by the Indian Supreme Court.
The letter pointed out that Bangladesh has a vast native diversity of Brinjal. As Brinjal is largely open-pollinated, transgene contamination poses a great threat. There is also the issue of safety. On 29 September 2013, the High Court of Bangladesh ruled that the government should not release Bt brinjal without assessing the health risks, and ordered the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the agriculture secretary and the health secretary to submit a report within 3 months, after conducting an independent research on health safety in line with standards set down by the Codex Alimentarius.
An independent analysis carried out by eminent international scientists and submitted to the Prime Minister, concluded that “Bt Brinjal will have negligible benefit but would present an enormous hazard to human health. It would be profound disservice to Bangladesh if Bt Brinjal were allowed to enter her food supply.There are at least four mechanisms by which the introduction of the Bt toxin gene into the Brinjal genome can cause harm. These include the random insertion of the Bt gene into the plant DNA and the resulting unintended consequences, alterations in crop metabolism by the Bt protein that results in new, equally unintended and potentially toxic products, the direct toxicity of the Bt protein, and an immune response elicited by the Bt protein.”
Civil society organizations in Bangladesh have asked to see toxicological test results as well as nutritional composition analysis of Bt Brinjal submitted to the Biosafety Core Committee, but in vain. Nor has there been any public consultation on the issue before the decision was taken to commercialize the GM crop.
Bt Brinjal is already notorious in the region. In India, a moratorium was imposed after a series of public hearings and consultations Bt Brinjal Halted. The then environment minister Honorable Jairam Ramesh said, ''It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in Brinjal in our country.''