The government plans to release five more genetically modified (GM) brinjal varieties at farmers level this year, ignoring the controversies and the poor yield that resulted from releases of earlier varieties.
Rafiqul Islam Mondol, director general of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), told the Dhaka Tribune they would apply to the government agencies concerned soon to get the approval of releasing the GM brinjal varieties, popularly known as Bt brinjal.
According to BARI, it has so far developed Bt Uttara, Bt Kajla, Bt Noyontara, Bt ISD 006, Bt Singnath, Bt Dohajari, Bt Chyaga, Bt Khotkhotia and Bt Islampuri – from local varieties by inserting the Bt gene – developed by US-based agro company Monsanto – into them after a seven-year experiment which started in 2006, with the technical support of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco).
On October 30, 2013, the state-owned research institute released four GM varieties – Bt Uttara, Bt Kajla, Bt Noyontara and Bt ISD 006 – without giving any satisfactory explanation on issues related to environmental and health hazards raised by campaigners. The move was even challenged in court, but rejected.
“We are trying to release the rest of the five invented GM brinjal varieties to demonstrate in the farmers level. We will go for getting approval of National Bio-safety Committee soon,” Rafiqul told the Dhaka Tribune.
In February 2014, the government distributed Bt brinjal saplings among 20 farmers in Gazipur, Jamalpur, Rangpur and Ishwardi, but most of them yielded poor results.
Later in October last year, Bari distributed saplings of the GM brinjal to 108 farmers in 17 different districts including Manikganj, Tangail, Pabna, Kushtia, Comilla, Jessore and Dinajpur.
Regarding the latest batch of cultivation, the BARI DG expressed hopes that the farmers would get good production, which is expected to come in the market by mid-February.
According to a condition imposed by the National Committee on Bio-safety, no GM crop can be sold without labels.
On labelling GM brinjals before marketing them, Rafiqul told the Dhaka Tribune that it would not be possible to maintain labelling in the retail level, but when the crops are shifted from the farmers to the market, “Poison-free GM brinjal” would be labelled on the sacks.
With an aim to make the GM crop popular among farmers, BARI plans to provide Bt Brinjal seeds to Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) from the current season so that they can distribute the seeds directly to more farmers by producing more seed.
From the next year, the BADC would handle the seed distribution and marketing among the farmers, the BARI chief added.
Mahyco, in which Monsanto has 26% stake, developed the varieties with the financial support of the USAID. Mahyco’s Bt brinjal was banned in India in 2010 after its harmful effects were exposed. The same group earlier developed GM brinjal varieties in the Philippines. But the move was stalled by a court order, considering the health hazards.