Why the Environment Ministry is silent over Bt. Brinjal?

Bt. Brinjal, a genetically modified food crop, inserted with a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis has been approved by the National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) in Bangladesh for limited scale cultivation by farmers amid resistance from the Environmental and farmers groups in the country. In a notification (in bangla) of October 30, 2013 bearing a reference No.22.00.0000. the Environment Section-2 of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry provisionally approved the petition of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institution (BARI) to cultivate Bt Begun varieties 1,2,3 and 4 in a limited scale at the field level by following seven conditions.

Brinjal also known as eggplant or aubergine, is a small and big farmers’ crop and a common vegetable for the majority of the people. As brinjal, undoubtedly it is entirely an issue of agriculture, but Bt. Brinjal being genetically modified is beyond the scope of Agriculture alone. It is a matter of the Ministry of Environment as it runs the authority called National Committee on Biosafety.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) signed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June1992 is the main international instrument for addressing biodiversity issues. It provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of natural resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits deriving from the use of genetic resources.

The Convention addresses the issue of Biosafety which refers to the need to protect human health and the environment from the possible adverse effects of the products of modern biotechnology. Articles 8(g) and 19, paragraph 3, seek to ensure the development of appropriate procedures to enhance the safety of biotechnology in the context of the Convention’s overall goal of reducing all potential threats to biological diversity, taking also into account the risks to human health.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, was finalized and adopted in Montreal on 29 January 2000 is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements. Bangladesh through the Ministry of Environment is a signatory of these international conventions and therefore is liable to ensuring the biosafety regulations while giving socalled “approval” for the GMOs in the country.

One of the seven conditions in the approval letter from NCB, it said: In order to ensure monitoring of Biosafety Measures in the places with limited cultivation BARI must form a Field Level Biosafety Committee with the local Agricultural Extension officer, the Scientific officer of BARI experimental centre, the district or divisional officer of Environment Directorate and the Upazilla Administrative officer and submit to NCB;

At the field level, farmers were not aware of any such committee, all they know about Bt. Brinjal is that “it is free from pests and pesticides”.

The question is why the Ministry or the Directorate of Environment is silent over the issue and not even responding to the concerns expressed by the environmental groups on the issues of threats to environment, biodiversity and health? Why it is not even trying to justify its argument for giving the approval. Is it because the condition number 5 of the approval says: In case of risks of health and environment are created, the applicant institution and the relevant Ministry must take immediate action and implement the necessary plan, so that the risks can be prevented from spreading and can be remedied. The applicant organization must bear the responsibility of the potential environmental risks or situation under the Biosafety Rules.

Can the Ministry of Environment get away with such condition and not be responsible for non-compliance? We urge upon the Ministry of Environment to speak out!

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