Haryana probing suspected Bt brinjal crop

The Haryana government has taken up the illegal cultivation of genetically engineered brinjal variety in the state and has picked up samples of the suspected Bt brinjal crop from a farm belonging to a farmer in Fatehabad district in the state for testing.

Samples of the suspected transgenic brinjal variety have been sent to the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi for testing to establish the transgenic trait, a state government official said.
“We expect the result in a week or 10 days. Further action will be decided subsequently,” said Arjun Singh Saini, director-general of the state horticulture department. The samples were collected by a committee headed by Fatehabad deputy commissioner, he said.
The state government got involved after activists belonging to the Coalition for a GM-Free India told a press conference on 25 April that a Fatehabad farmer has been allegedly growing Bt brinjal crop illegally in his field. Preliminary tests carried out by the state horticulture department on the sample collected from the farm tested positive for Cry1Ac protein, which is produced by a gene found in a soil bacterium and used to safeguard against pests that attack plants, including brinjal.
Bt brinjal is not approved for commercial cultivation in India, as further scientific studies are still required to assess its long-term impact on human health as well as on the environment. The anti-GM activists are worried that the introduction of the transgenic variety may genetically contaminate domesticated as well as wild varieties of brinjal for which India is a centre of diversity.
“The regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee behaves as a promotional body than a regulator and therein lies a major problem. This is not the first time that this is happening. This is the fourth such instance of illegal GM crop entry into India. Bt cotton was approved in India after large-scale illegal cultivation was discovered in Gujarat. The regulators turned a blind eye to illegal herbicide-tolerant cotton cultivation thereafter, while it spread to lakhs of hectares. In late 2017, when illegal GM soya cultivation was discovered in Gujarat and a complaint was lodged with the GEAC, the response was quite slow and dangerously lackadaisical,” the activists said.
Further action will depend on the outcome of the tests being carried out by NBPGR, Saini said. “If the rumours turn out to be true we may have a lot to do. Apart from destroying the suspected crop, we may have to investigate how these seedlings reached the farmer. The entire supply chain may need to be exposed. Who knows farmers in many other parts of the country may also be growing it illegally,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior scientist dealing with biosafety at the ministry of environment and forests in New Delhi, said the ministry was aware of the issue and waiting for further directions from the secretary to take up the issue with the state government.