The release of genetically modified Bt Brinjal at the farmer level has drawn flak from experts and activists as they claim the agencies concerned have not conducted any study on the toxic effect of the varieties.
Only a three-month ‘sub-acute toxicity test’ on some different cultivable Bt Brinjal varieties developed in India has been done by the ‘sublicensor’ of the technology, Maharashtrya Hybrid Seed Company Ltd (Mahyco), that neither provides the parametre to judge the longer term toxicity impact on human health nor be applied to the four different cultivable varieties developed by one of its ‘sublicensees’, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari), they noted.
The experts raised their brows about the hasty release of the genetically modified eggplants in Bangladesh despite having a bio-safety act in the country to regulate the cultivation and business of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that can also lead to environmental hazards through cross-pollination with the crops in the adjacent areas.
Talking to UNB, lecturer at Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacology Department of Dhaka University, Zobaer Al Mahmud, expressed his surprise over the factor that Bari has referred to a 90-day ‘sub-acute toxicity test’ of some Bt Brinjal varieties — conducted by none other than Mahyco, the sublicensor of the technology in India — to support its release.
“To have any idea about the longer term toxicity of anything on human health, you need to go through a ‘chronic toxicity test’ on it at least for two years,” he said, adding: “Moreover, the test done by Mahyco on different Bt Brinjal varieties can’t be applicable to the four varieties developed by Bari.”
“You can always raise a question about the acceptability of the test which was not done by any independent agency. Even the details of the Mahyco test were not made public,” he added.
Zobaer Al Mahmud also noted that Bari and the officials of the Agriculture Ministry have also resorted to misinformation when they claimed the country’s farmers will enjoy the ownership of Bt Brinjals they cultivate.
The tripartite agreement signed by Mahyco, Sathguru Management Consultants Private Ltd (India) and Bari in 2005 for the development and release of cultivable Bt Brinjal varieties in Bangladesh clearly stats that Monsanto or Mahyco preserves all the intellectual property rights (IPR) of the technology.
Section 1.19 of the tripartite agreement, of which UNB has a copy, said all Bt Gene is a Monsanto or Mahyco technology and the intellectual property rights of the concerned will be infringed by unauthorised distribution of products containing Bt Gene.
Sub-section (c) of Section 9.2 of the deal also noted that it can be terminated by the sublicensor or Mahyco if the laws and regulations in Bangladesh do not provide assurance of protection for commercial and intellectual property rights.
When his attention was drawn about the sections mentioned above, Zobaer Al Mahmud said many of the conscious citizens of the country remained confused about the ownership of Bt Brinjal by the misinformation produced by the government and some of the media.
“The agreement simply focuses on ensuring the commercial and intellectual property of Mahyco,” he said.
Besides, the health and the ownership issue, the environmental aspects of promoting Bt Brinjals have also been overlooked by the government. Similar technology in the US has already failed measurably. Insects have become resistant to the Bt toxin infused in Bt Maize,” he added.
Leading ethnobotanist and a researcher working for Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK) said Bt Brinjals are cross-pollinating and its introduction at farmer level also pose serious threats to crops in other adjacent fields.
“The most concerning thing for Bangladesh is that we do not have a bio-safety act which is a must before the research and release of any GMO. The government of our country has gone for the release depending only on a bio-safety guideline, whereas the government of India has not yet dared to do so despite having an act of its own,” he said.