Hamara Beej

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Orissa bans Bt Brinjal citing small farmers’ interests and biosafety concerns

Debabrata Mohanty 
Tags : Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, Bt Brinjal 
Posted: Friday , Oct 23, 2009 at 0150 hrs 

Despite the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee giving its nod to the commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal last week, Orissa government has made it clear that commercial farming of any genetically modified crop, including brinjal, would not be allowed in the state. “It (Bt Brinjal) is detrimental to the interest of the farmers. The Orissa government is strategic in its stand against GM crops — either Bt Cotton or Bt Brinjal. The state has over 100 varieties of locally- produced brinjal and those may be affected by Bt Brinjal production,” Orissa Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout said. He added that Bt Brinjal would adversely affect large number of poor and small farmers in the state in the long run. “The modified crops may help big farmers, but it would certainly not help the poor villagers who grow brinjal in their kitchen gardens,” Rout said. State Agriculture Secretary U P Singh said Orissa has taken a policy decision not to allow Bt Brinjal production. Singh claimed to have no information of GEAC approving the commercial production. “But that does not make any difference. It has all along been our stand that we would not allow Bt Brinjal or for that matter any GM crop in Orissa.” Singh underlined that nobody can force Orissa to go for commercial production of Bt Brinjal as agriculture is a state subject. Orissa government’s stance has been widely hailed by the anti-GM activists. “The people of Orissa will bless you for this momentous task to protect our favourite food and delicacy. Brinjal is a native crop of Orissa,” said Jagannath Chatterjee of Living Farms, a Bhubaneswar-based anti-GM initiative. Kerala-based activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan said he was happy that Orissa is the second state after Kerala to oppose GM crop. But activists sounded words of caution saying loopholes in regulation and lax government supervision did not offer much hope. “The state government may not allow Bt Brinjal cultivation, but how would it stop Bt Brinjal seeds coming in through the neighbouring states. This has happened with Bt Cotton which is being grown in over 10,000 acres of area in Kalahandi, Raygada and Bolangir districts. The cotton farmers there are at great risk as their indebtedness are only increasing by the day,” said Debjeet Sarangi, an anti-GM activist of Bhubaneswar. Agriculture secretary U P Singh agreed that it was difficult to differentiate Bt Cotton seeds from non-Bt Cotton seeds. “Some years ago we had seized Bt Cotton seeds from Bargarh district. But that is not possible always,”he said. Incidentally, tests of Bt Brinjal are underway in the horticultural research station of Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar, under isolated conditions since winter 2008. Vice-chancellor of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, D P Ray told The Indian Express that the tests are being done over a 2,000 sq metre plot as part of the All India Vegetable Improvement Project of Varanasi-based Indian Institute of Vegetable Research. “The tests would continue for another two years and then the results would be sent to IIVR for analysis,” he said. Ray, who is a member of the state’s Committee on Biosafety, added that it would be harmful to allow commercial production of Bt Brinjal as there are more than 100 germplasms of the crop. “We have good biodiversity and those may be affected by Bt Brinjal,” he said. 

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