Eggplants

Representational image | Photo: Christinne Muschi | Bloomberg

New Delhi: RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has sought an immediate halt to Bt brinjal trials in national interest.

In the letter sent Monday, SJM national co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan brought to notice “recent disturbing news” regulators in the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change allowed the penultimate stage of field trials in the last meeting of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee.

“They have asked six states to make way for trials of this controversial technology. We are seeking your personal intervention to halt these trials at earliest,” wrote Mahajan.

He alleged conflict of interest on the part of regulators and added that GM crops could hurt trade security, and allow multinational corporations to monopolise the market.

Earlier this month, the Centre allowed biosafety research field trials of two new transgenic varieties of indigenously developed Bt brinjal in a few states in 2020-23. This came 10 years after it imposed a moratorium on commercial release of genetically modified Bt brinjal.

The letter said the clearances have been given “mischievously to defeat the Atmanirbhar Abhiyan or Self Reliance campaign” initiated by the Modi government to “cut down dependence on the foreign players, but also to evolve world class eco-system to develop cutting edge products, for domestic consumption and also for exports”.

‘World is shunning GM crops’

In his letter to PM Modi, Mahajan stressed that the government’s move has come at a time when the world is looking at healthier options than genetically modified (GM) crops.

“The narrative is changing globally, world is looking for healthier options, not the over-production or GM variants. We, at SJM, fully endorse your call for organic and natural farming. It is time for India to show the world that how we can strike balance with environment as well as with the requirement of our people for healthy living,” he wrote.

“The GM is ante-philosophy. It doesn’t suit our narrative, neither have we needed it. We want to see India as world’s food basket. But the GM crop, would impact here as well,” he said.

Mahajan said India cannot willingly jeopardise trade security by opting for GM technology “when an overwhelming majority of countries around the world shun GM crops”.

The letter urged the prime minister “to make our farmer self reliant and consumers free from unhealthy food”.

The SJM opposition

Swadeshi Jagran Manch has been opposed to Bt brinjal from the beginning, calling it “unneeded technology”.

“This Bt brinjal also, like in the case of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal on which an indefinite moratorium was imposed in February 2010, is a completely unneeded technology. Pest management in brinjal is possible without the use of Bt or synthetic pesticides and scientific evidence exists of the same,” wrote Mahajan.

“In fact, the yield and production of brinjal in India increased after the moratorium on Bt brinjal which clearly shows that this technology is not needed,” he added.

‘Conflict of interest’

In the letter, Mahajan also alleged that the regulators had a conflict of interest to push the project.

“Bt brinjal seems to have moved forward in the regulatory pipeline basically because of a deep conflict of interest that some regulators had,” he said.

He even cited a few examples. “Both the GM event developer and biosafety testing person, who used to head National Institute of Nutrition which did the toxicity testing of this Bt brinjal, who is also associated with industry lobby bodies, were regulators when all the initial permissions were given to this new Bt brinjal,” he wrote.

“There were concerns expressed by several other regulators about the results of the toxicity tests on this Bt brinjal, but these were brushed aside to push this Bt brinjal to the next stage. Now, it is standing very close to consideration of commercial cultivation approval. The biotech industry is at work again now,” he alleged.

‘Uncalculated risk’

The letter to PM said that India is not in shortage of brinjal, neither in quality nor in quantity and hence there is no point in taking “this uncalculated risk”.

He also cited the example of Bt cotton to point out how MNCs end up monopolising the market and dictate the price.

“Experience shows that Monsanto Company fleeced farmers to the extent of rupees 8000 crores, before your government decided to bring down the trait fee on Bt Cotton seed to zero and saving farmers from hardships. Apart from this, this also puts the country’s food security in a risk,” he added.

Last month, the RSS affiliate had also demanded a ban on the use of glyphosate, pointing out that the herbicide is subject to thousands of litigations in the US courts due to its risk of causing cancer.

 

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