The government of India was forced by an overwhelming public opinion to declare a moratorium on the release of the transgenic Brinjal (Aubergines/Egg plant) hybrid developed by Mahyco, a subsidiary of American seed giant Monsanto.
Bt brinjal is created by inserting a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the brinjal cell. Monsanto claims the transgenic variety they have developed has resistance against pests such as Shoot Borer and Fruit Borer.
India is the home of brinjal, where it has been cultivated for four thousand years without the help of fertilizers or pesticides.
French scientist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), who carried out the first ever independent assessment of Monsanto-Mahyco’s dossier on toxicity tests – gave the verdict: GM aubergene is unfit for consumption.
On health effects, Seralini found that:
- Bt brinjal produces a protein in the vegetable cells that induce antibiotic resistance. This is recognised as a major health problem and is inappropriate for commercialised use. It may also indicate that old GM technology is being used as the technology has already moved on from antibiotic resistance marker genes.
- Bt brinjal appears to have 15 percent less calories and different alkaloid content compared to non-GM brinjal. It contains 16-17 mg/kg Bt insecticide toxin. When fed to animals, effects were observed on blood chemistry with significant differences according to the sex of the animal or period of measurement. Other effects were on blood clotting time (prothrombin), total bilirubin (liver health), and alkaline phosphate in goats and rabbits.
- Changes in lactating cows were observed in increased weight gain, intake of more dry roughage matter and milk production up by 10-14 percent as if they were treated by a hormone.
- Rats fed Bt brinjal had diarrhoea, increased water consumption; decrease in liver weight, and liver to body weight.
- Feed intake was modified in broiler chickens.
According to Seralini, “This makes for a very coherent picture of Bt brinjal that is potentially unsafe for human consumption. The GM brinjal cannot be considered as safe as its non GM counterpart.” In addition, he says that the longest toxicity test were only for 90 days, which does not assess long-term effects such as the development of cancers or tumours. Furthermore, he considers it potentially unsafe to eat animals with the health problems that had been fed Bt brinjal.
Bt toxins are derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringenesis; natural Bt toxins have never been authorised for mammalian consumption and are known to be harmful to health. Seralini’s appraisal also cautions against synthetic and genetically modified Bt toxins such as the hybrid toxin contained in Bt brinjal that mixes two toxins, the Cry 1 Ab and Cry1Ac engineered sequences together. Another flaw in the Monsanto-Mayhco toxicity tests on non-target insects was that the single toxin Cry1Ac was used because this was easier than the hybrid.
If regulators such as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had been doing long term research to assess the claims of GM crop companies and taken up the analysis of the company’s data itself then the two year large scale trials of Bt brinjal approved in 2007 would not have been allowed to go ahead. In fact, the results only came to light when a Supreme Court battle forced GEAC to put the Monsanto-Mahyco test dossier on Bt brinjal into the public domain.
Opposition to GM crops kicked up in India as news of sheep dying in big numbers started to come in from areas where Bt Cotton is grown. Over the last few years there has been a sustained campaign against GM crops, especially Bt brinjal. 100s of thousands of people signed the ‘I am no Labrat’ petition. Various grassroot level organizations like Chethana, NGOs led by Greenpeace, noted environmental activists like Vandana Shiva – helped take the message to the masses of the need for ‘people’s action’.
Even with the opposition for Bt brinjal gathering momentum, GEAC gave the green signal for commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal – completely disregarding the massive public opinion and the scientific data put forward by Prof Seralini. The Supreme Court-appointed GEAC observer PM Bhargava called the decision ‘farcical’.
During the public hearings set by the ministry for environment, one message came out loud and clear – farmers and consumers rejected Bt brinjal. Even though the minister for agriculture of India was all for introduction of Bt Brinjal and more GM crops, the minister for environment was forced to listen to the voice of India’s democratic soul. The central government had to declare a moratorium on Bt Brinjal 9th February 2010.
Dr Vandana Shiva tweeted: “GMO free movement wins a victory with Moratorium on BT Brinjal. This is a step towards food democracy.”
When there is an unholy relationship between politicians and big corporations, democracy quickly makes way for corporatocracy. Barely a week after declaring the moratorium on Bt brinjal, the government of India revealed its hand: A new law is being floated to introduce the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India. The main objective of setting up BRAI is to take away the regulating authority from the ministry of environment – which actually is a big step to deregulating the bio-technology industry.
Through BRAI government of India proposes to silence its citizens for the benefit of big corporations and effectively kill democracy. Article 63 of the proposed law states: “Whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of the organizations & products specified in Part I or Part II or Part II of the Schedule I, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees (Approx 5000USD) or both.”
There just cannot be any reason to trust any GMO or the likes of Monsanto. Farmers in the US are suffering from ‘superweeds’ which are attacking high-tech Monsanto farms. In late 2004, these ‘superweeds’ popped up in GM crops in Macon County, Georgia. To top it, these ‘superweeds’ resisted Monsanto’s iconic ‘Roundup’ herbicide – and today up to 100,000 acres in Georgia are severely infested – forcing some farmers to abandon their farmland.
In the UK, a GM oilseed rape crossed with a distant wild relative, charlock, resistant to highly lethal herbicides.
Under the new BRAI regime in India, it will difficult for citizens to raise questions on GM crops, even if common knowledge exist based on the clear evidences from the US and UK on the dangers of farming GM crops, the findings of Prof. Seralini and many other scientists on the toxicity of GM food.
Big power, may it be corporations or politicians who work for them, have always played with the word ‘security’ to undermine the basic democratic rights of citizens all over the world. Food security is now being used as a back door to the widespread introduction of GM crops.
Over the last two years, we have seen major manipulation on the world economy. The banking sector was driven down to the verge of an economic collapse, only to take away public money as bailout funds. The rising food price, essentially driven up through future trading, could also be rigged to change public perceptions on GM crops.
India’s so called success with Monsanto’s Bt Cotton is already being drummed up to justify the introduction of other GM crops. More than the dying sheep and livestock, ever since India opened up its seed sector to global corporations in 1998, more than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide out of sheer desperation. Bt Cotton consumes more than 11000 liters of water per kilo of fiber. With calamitous droughts and high price of energy/ fossil fuel denying any chance of drawing groundwater for irrigation.
Vandana Shiva explains it the best, “The region in India with the highest level of farmer suicides is the Vidharbha region in Maharashtra – 4000 suicides per year, 10 per day. This is also the region with the highest acreage of Monsanto’s GMO Bt cotton. Monsanto’s GM seeds create a suicide economy by transforming seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input which must be bought every year at high prices. Cotton seed used to cost Rs 7/kg. Bt-cotton seeds were sold at Rs 17,000/kg. Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped with food crops. Bt-cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the boll worm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500/kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average. High costs and unreliable output make for a debt trap, and a suicide economy.”
People of India now have a new battle in their hands: to fight BRAI and GM crops.