Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bt Brinjal (Eggplant) May Be Released Commercially By Year-End

Publication: Business Standard (India)
Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Bt brinjal, the country’s first genetically modified (GM) edible product, is in the final stage of getting a clearance from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the biotechnology regulatory body of the Government of India.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company-(Mahyco-) developed Bt brinjal had run into trouble last year with the Union health ministry and consumer organisations raising questions about its safety with regard to health.

Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday, Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director (research), Mahyco, said, “We have already got the GEAC’s permission to produce Bt brinjal seeds for field trials, which have been completed. The scientific papers and data of the field trials have been submitted by the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM). It has been tested to be absolutely safe. We have applied for the commercial release of Bt brinjal seeds to the GEAC and hope it will be approved by the end of this year.”

In 2006, Mahyco, a leading seed company in India, which had successfully introduced cutting-edge biotech products such as Bt cotton hybrids, had applied for the commercial release of Bt brinjal, but GEAC had asked the company to conduct some more studies.

Mahyco had completed those studies and submitted the reports along with the application for commercial release again in 2008, Zehr said.

About the NGO campaigns against the release of Bt brinjal, fuelled by global studies questioning the health and safety of genetically modified edible products, Zehr claimed that in terms of composition, it was not different from the normal brinjal, except for the additional Bt protein. It would also improve the marketable yield, she said.

A major constraint in brinjal production is plant infestation by fruit shoot borers or FSBs. The pest can cause significant yield loss and reduce the number of marketable fruits.

The marketable yield loss due to FSBs is almost 45-60 per cent. Experts had estimated that financial loss to the country because of this 45-60 per cent damage was equivalent to Rs 1,000 crore a year, Zehr said. Bt brinjal can reduce this loss to 10 per cent, she claimed. Moreover, farmers would require 70 per cent less insecticides to fight FSBs in this case, she explained.

In India, brinjal is cultivated on 550,000 hectares with average produce of 30 tonnes.

According to a study by Mahyco, farmers invested about Rs 100 per pesticide spray per acre for anywhere between 40 and 45 sprays on the 90-day brinjal crop, depending upon the type of infestation, Zehr pointed out.

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