Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had a rather unusual bunch of visitors last week – Greenpeace protesters dressed up as sheep and cattle, who camped outside his office. The “animals” were asking for an investigation into the death of 1,600 head of cattle and sheep in Andhra Pradesh in April 2006. The deaths were closely linked to prolonged consumption of Bt cotton stalks and leaves that were left in fields after the harvest.
Bt cotton is the only genetically modified (GM) seed sold in India. In the four years since it has been in use, not only has it failed to live up to its claim of being a `miracle seed’, but it has also had harmful effects on biosafety.
At a time when the safety of Bt cotton is highly suspect, the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is considering clearance of large-scale field trials of Bt Brinjal. It is the first time that GM Brinjal is being released for an advanced stage of field trials in open conditions anywhere in the world. It is also the closest India has got to sanctioning GM food crops.
If cleared, it will be the first time that the GEAC allows large-scale field trials for GM food crops. Such field trials could lead to the uncontrolled release of genetically modified organisms into the environment, which could contaminate normal varieties of the crop. Japan and several European countries have banned cultivation of GM food crops. But India is allowing it entry without taking adequate precautions.