Bt brinjal is a GMO or Genetically Modified Organism. Crystal gene from Bacillus thuringiensis has been inserted into brinjal genome to increase the resistance of brinjal against Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB) insect. Bangladesh Agricultural research Institute (BARI) has conducted this research with the support of ABSP II of USAID. BARI received the seeds of Bt brinjal from Maharastra Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO), India. There was no innovation by BARI scientists, they only used the Monsanto-Mahyco technology to conduct experiment with the genetically modified Bt. Brinjal through the farmers in Bangladesh.
BARI had applied for approval during mid July (14 July, 2013) to the Ministry of Agriculture for cultivation of Bt brinjal at farmers’ level. Accordingly the National Committee on Crop Biotechnology (NTCCB) held a meeting on 07 October, 2013. The National Bio-safety Core Committee under the Ministry of Environment was asked on 20th October to provide report on Bt brinjal by 23 October, 2013, i.e. within three days whereas at least 90 days are required for reviewing the documents and to give opinion. Finally The National committee on Bio-safety, NCB gave approval for releasing four Bt brinjal varieties. These included Bt brinjal 1 (Uttara). Bt brinjal 2 (Kajla), Bt brinjal 3 ( Nayantara) and Bt brinjal 4 (Ishwardi 006). A circular was issued by Ministry of Environment and Forest (section 2) which accorded approval to Bt brinjal on 30 October, 2013 vide memo no. 22.00.0000, 073.05.003 2012-271 [http://bari.gov.bd/home/latest_news]
It was learnt that there were differences of opinion in the Inter- Ministerial Stakeholder Meeting on the approval . However, those opposing the approval were not heard.
Distribution of Saplings:
On 22 January 2014, Matia Chowdhury, Minister of Agriculture formally distributed saplings of Bt brinjal on colorful plastic trays among 20 selected farmers from Gazipur, Jamalpur, Pabna and Rangpur. High ranking Agriculture officers including the Director General, BARI and the Mission Director, US AID were present. There was no presence of any officer of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, which is actually responsible for the approval of this GM crop and to take responsible of bio-safety measures. Apparently, it is only the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture Extension, who are taking care of the limited open field cultivation. It means, the productivity and pest attack performance are emphasised while other concerns of environment, biodiversity and health remain a side-issue. A violet colored booklet was also distributed among the guests and media on Bt. Brinjal cultivation. This is the only written material from BARI on Bt. Brinjal.
Bt brinjal fields in different locations including Rangpur (18 May, 2014), Ishwardi, Pabna (23 April, 2014) and Jamalpur (21 May, 2014) were visited by members of the Coalition against Bt. Brinjal. Photographs of Bt brinjal field plots were taken while visiting the respective plots.
Insect infestation on FSB resistant Bt brinjal
Fruit and shoot Borer resistant Bt brinjal was expected to be free from insect infestation but the plants were affected by insects not only on leaves but on fruits as well. Flowers in some plants were rotten and fruits were damaged due to insect attack.
Bt brinjal sign
A farmer in Rangpur has a signage board on a laminated paper stating “BARI Bt brinjal 1(Uttara) free from insects”. There is no mention that it is Genetically Modified. People will not automatically understand what Bt. means. The sign also gives false message. It is not entirely free from use of insecticide, because the farmers have used insecticide (Malathion), fungicide (cumplex) and miticide (omite) at the advice of the Agricultural Extension officers and at his own decision.
At the time of visit by Investigator, Farmer Afzal was separating the insect infested brinjal (FSB) and taking the unblemished ones for selling in the market. At that time about 7kg insect infested Bt brinjal was piled up there near him.
GM Brinjal in the Market without label:
For informed consumer choice there is need of labeling for marketing of GM crops. However, no label was found for Bt. Brinjal. In Rangpur it was sold in the same market as other local variety brinjals. Economically, the experience of marketing of Bt brinjal was not good either. Farmer, Likhon in Rangpur took five sacks (each of 45kg) to market. The first sack that was opened looked very fresh and bright. That sack was sold for BDT 500. But within two hours the remaining Bt brinjal became wrinkled and unattractive. Then the customers became disinterested to buy those. The farmer was then compelled to sell the remaining Bt brinjal at BDT 300 per sack.
Another famer Afzal had sold Bt brinjal Uttara for BDT 480 per mound (1 maund = 37.32kg). Side by side another farmer sold local variety of brinjal, Khatkhatia for BDT 600 per mound. Bt brinjal becomes wrinkled by touch of hand and thus the customers do not like it. So economically it does not give a viable picture for the farmers.
Non-Compliance of Approval conditions
There were 7 specific conditions of Approval by the National Committee on Biosafety under Ministry of Environment. The first two conditions were to be filled by the authorities responsible for field cultivation of Bt. Brinjal before it is given to farmers. This was difficult to monitor. But the violate booklet on Bt. Brinjal seemed to be part of the work plan and guideline for the farmers. We have monitored the conditions that were applicable at the farmers’ field cultivation level.
a. According to the Condition 3 of the approval there is a requirement for formation of a Field Biosafety Committee involving the concerned officer of the Department of Agriculture Extension, concerned scientists of the BARI Regional station, district and divisional level officers of the Ministry of Environment for Biosafety measures monitoring. BARI is supposed to propose the formation of the committee to the NCB. There was no such information available about the proposed committee. It is only the Agriculture Extension Officer who was looking after all aspects of production.
In fact, the Deputy Assistant Agriculture Officer (former Block Supervisor) has been offering instructions at every step. The farmers have been motivated and encouraged to the effect that in case of any loss it will be compensated. They should not “Worry”. The famers do not know that Bt brinjal is a product of special type of technology. They do not know anything about genetic modification. They call it “Sarkari Begun” (Government’s brinjal), brinjal of Khaja or DG (Director General of BARI) or a program of the Agriculture Minister. Some said, it was the child of Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury.
b. According to Condition 4 there is need for offering training to the farmers in terms of Biosafety protocol and producing Bt brinjal in proper environment. There is also need of providing a guideline to the farmers for cultivation of Bt brinjal. The farmers did not mention about any such training. However, a booklet containing the instruction for cultivation of Bt brinjal was available from a farmer in Ishwardi. Others did not mention about the booklet.
c. According to condition 5 the applicant institution and the concerned Ministry will have to take proper step on emergency basis in case there is any impact of Bt brinjal on account of environment and public health. The applicant institution will be responsible for any adverse impact on environment due to release of such technology. No such effort was seen on the ground. No report indicating safety status for human health was submitted before the release of Bt brinjal as asked by the High Court. A compiled toxicological test results on mammal research conducted in India in 2005, sponsored by Mahyco is presented by BARI as of June 2013 in a spiral bound report. According to the Summery report “Groups of Ten male and 10 female Sprague Dawley rats were administered transgenic Bt Brinjal containing cry 1 A(c) gene suspended in peanut oil. The result of 14 days dose range finding study was considered as a basis for selection of doses for the main 91 day study. The rats were then sacrificed for experimentation. The test articles did not induce any remarkable and treatment related clinical abnormalities in rats treated at the dose of 1000 mg/kg.........”. No health safety animal research on Bt brinjal till now has been done in Bangladesh. In 2005 there was no Bt. Brinjal for testing. In India also the research was just started. The report of Health research conducted in MAHYCO Laboratory is being submitted which is absurd.
Whereas Dr. Lou Gallagher, an entomologist in New Zealand has shown in his research that the consumption of genetically modified BT Brinjal can make human sick. If eaten regularly, it can adversely affect the immune response of the body, cause liver damage and lead to reproductive disorders. A report, published in 'India Today' in January 2011, citing Dr Lou Gallagher's study said that rats fed with BT Brinjal experienced organ and system damage and had ovaries at half their normal weight, enlarged spleens with white blood cell counts at 35 to 40 per cent higher than normal with elevated eosinophils, indicating immune function changes. Toxic effects to the liver were seen in the form of elevated bilirubin. [The Financial express, 23 January, 2014]
d. According to the Condition 6 the proponent institution will take effective measure for labeling of Bt brinjal at the time of marketing. It was observed in Rangpur that Bt brinjal was being sold in the market along with normal local variety brinjals. The farmer was telling the customers that these were brinjal of the Government. There was no label indicating that those were genetically modified brinjal.
In terms of labeling of Bt brinjal the Director General of BARI Dr. Rafiqul Islam mentioned in an Interview with The New Age, “it is totally impossible to label the brinjals before going to market here in Bangladesh. We wrote this observation to the government that it would be difficult to distinguish the varieties with labels in markets,” (New Age March 14, 2014). That means he violated the condition with declaration.
Out of seven conditions, four could be seen at the field for clear violations. Three conditions are organisational responsibilities, so could not be monitored.
Measures Preventing environmental Pollution:
There are no measures taken for preventing environmental pollution of GM crop at the field level. It was also not known whether there was any instruction to the Agriculture Officers and the farmers for preventing environmental pollution from GM.
Property Right of Brinjal:
According to the tripartite agreement , known as Sathguru Agreement, signed on 14 March, 2005 among the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Maharastro Hybrid Seed Company (MAHYCO) and the Sathguru Management consultant Pvt. Ltd. that the intellectual property right of the Bt brinjal will remain with Monsanto and MAHYCO. In the Agreement Maharasthra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited is the Sub licensor, and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) is the Sub licensee and is a Collaborator in the ABSP II project in Bangladesh. The authority is lying with Sathguru and MAHYCO.
In every meeting of BARI or the Ministry of Agriculture, the authorities claimed that the property right of Bt brinjal will remain with Bangladesh, i.e. BARI, thus keeping the people of Bangladesh in dark about the Intellectual Property Rights. In the Tripartite Agreement, Article 1.19 “Monsanto/MHSCL IP Rights shall mean all intellectual property rights that Monsanto or MHSCL owns or controls which will be infringed by making, using or selling Licensed Domestic Eggplant Products containing MHSCL Technology or Monsanto Technology (i.e. the B.t. Gene)” .
According to Article 2.5 (b) sub licensee shall not cross or backcross the B.t. Gene into any Eggplant germplasm other than the varieties listed in Annexure 1. These varieties are, 1. Uttara (Accession # EC549409), 2. Kajla (Accession # EC549410), 3. Nayantara (Accession # EC549411), 4 Singhnath (B009) (Accession # EC549412), 5. Dohazari (Accession # EC549413), 6. Chaga (Accession # EC549414), 7. Khatkatia (BL117) (Accession # EC549415), 8. Islampuri (Accession # EC549416) and 9. Ishurdi local (ISD006) (Accession # EC549417).
In Article 1.6, it is also stated that the seeds of Bt brinjal will have to be purchased from the company. In Article 9.2 (c) it is further mentioned that the commercial and intellectual right of Bt brinjal remain with Monsanto- MAHYCO. The Company holds the right to cancel that agreement in case the terms and conditions of the agreement are violated.
According to Article 1.19 and 1.6, the ownership of 9 indigenous varieties of brinjal used for genetic modification will go to the company. It has been mentioned in the Article 9.2 (c) that the company holds the authority to cancel the agreement in case the commercial and intellectual property right of Bt brinjal is violated.
Report of the Journalists:
Journalists in Bangladesh, conscious about the effects of Bt Brinjal have made true and authentic investigative reports by visiting Bt brinjal fields. They have published their field observations in their respective newspapers. Visiting the farmers brinjal field, the FE correspondent found 25-30 per cent of the plants dead and the rest were struggling for survival. (The Financial Express , 7 April, 2014). The New Age, with reference to the Agriculture Officers, the institute provided 20 farmers with Bt brinjal saplings and 13 of the fields saw no success. (The New Age, 07 May, 2014).
In the face of crop failure in the field and the newspapers reports that brought the true picture of the field cultivation, the company became nervous and took the strategy of attacking the journalists with false allegations of lying. Mark Lynas a GM proponent was recruited to write different stories to prove that the Bangladesh Journalists and the anti-GMO activists are lying. Now Mark Lynas comes to bring out the “True Story”. He has previously visited India, the Philippines, Africa and advocated for extension of GM technology. He has absolutely no idea about brinjals in Bangladesh. Perhaps he only knows Bt. Brinjal, not any other brinjal. Bt. Brinjal is his truth, but Bangladeshi journalists are very much aware of agricultural crops and could understand what the farmers wanted to tell them. Not only the journalists, the neighbouring farmers and all those who visited the fields have similar observations. Mark Lynas story is built upon “interpretations” of the Agricultural Extension Officers about the performance. He went to the village in huge Jeep, with video cameras and being foreigner drew the attention of the villagers in different ways. The farmers could not tell their story, instead the Agricultural officers talked on their behalf. The farmers who could speak to Mark (through interpretations by Agricultural officers) were briefed before.
Mark however, does not believe that the anti-GMO activists are working with funds from the pesticide companies. Mark Lynas has to show that Bt brinjal is a successful technology otherwise it will be too difficult to introduce Golden Rice, Bt Potato and such other GM crops. So he has been appointed from Cornell University with support from Monsanto to rescue them from the Bt Brinjal disaster. If they want to introduce GM crops in Bangladesh, they must show socalled “success” of Bt Brinjal field trial.
Mark Lynas should know that Bangladeshi journalists would have definitely have written if Bt brinjal had any merit. Unfortunately, its performance is really bad.
Ramadan approaching/Beguni for Iftari
From Late June, the holy month of Ramadan will start. After the fasting, at Iftari, there is a practice of taking chola (gram) peyaju (preparation of lentil) and fried brinjal (dipped in Beson) called beguni. How the people in the Bt. Brinjal growing areas would differentiate between Bt. and regular brinjals if there is no label in the market? . Who is going to take the responsibility for averting the health risk of the people? Under these circumstances we urge for immediate withdrawal of Bt brinjal from the farmers before marketing.
Prime Minister must intervene for withdrawal of Bt Brinjal from market!
Bangladesh is an agricultural country. There is wide diversity in crops. Bangladesh is known to be in the Center of origin of brinjal. It is not at all acceptable to destroy hundreds of indigenous varieties of brinjal by introducing Bt brinjal. If the government is really concerned about pest control, then Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has been very effective for managing pest of brinjal. We do not need Bt brinjal at all. Bt brinjal is a risk for Bangladesh agriculture, environment, biodiversity and human health.Bangladesh is also at the risk of losing the vegetable export market in Europe.
In the interest of public health, environment and the indigenous varieties of brinjal, Prime Minister is urged to intervene to stop the field level cultivation of Bt brinjal and withdraw the Bt. Brinjals in the market and stop further cultivation. This will help saving agriculture environment and public health in Bangladesh.