Brinjal is an important food crop in India. However, cultivating brinjal comes with the challenge of regularly dealing with the pests that destroy the crop. Farmers use large quantities of powerful pesticides to combat it. These pesticides harm the environment, the farmers who use them frequently, and the consumers who consume the brinjals. This also increases the operational cost of cultivating brinjal, reducing farmers' profits. An especially deadly pest that attacks the crop regularly is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB). To combat these issues, Bt Brinjal was introduced into the picture.
Bt Brinjal is a genetically modified brinjal where the fruit is artificially enhanced with traits that fight FSB and other pests.
A company called the Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco) procured a license to engineer Bt Brinjal genetically. They separated a gene called cry1Ac from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis and inserted it into the brinjal. This created India's first genetically modified Bt Brinjal that was ready for commercialization.
Establishing the Safety of Bt Brinjal
Joint research conducted in collaboration with the Bangladesh government showed that Bt Brinjal is safe for human consumption. Because Bt Brinjal is the first genetically engineered food crop in India, it has attracted several studies.
It is, in fact, the most widely researched food crop there ever has been, and the research revealed that Bt Brinjal is safe. Scientists across India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines conducted commissioned research to test Bt Brinjal's safety and came positive as well.
Advantages of BT Brinjal
Growing pest-resistant food crops can be a game-changer for small-scale farmers. Their operating costs decrease drastically due to the sharp reduction of pesticides needed. All of this improves their profits.
Increased brinjal production will decrease the prices, making it more accessible to consumers. The farmers can import excess produce for higher profits. This can end up benefiting everyone in the supply chain.
Controversies of Bt Brinjal
Despite the benefits of Bt Brinjal and it is safe for consumption, the Indian government is being cautious. Mahyco's Bt Brinjal has been under a moratorium by the government since 2010. It is illegal to grow Bt Brinjal in India. The moratorium was imposed on Mahyco despite all the studies showing positive results.
There are divided opinions within the scientific community on issues regarding the impact of Bt Brinjal on humans and the environment. There has been a strong recommendation to study the environmental impact of growing Bt Brinjal and its effects on India's biodiversity.
Immunologists feel that long-term studies should be conducted on the human immune system if Bt Brinjal is consumed for a prolonged amount of time. Nutrition research is divided on the nutritional value that Bt Brinjal can provide.
Scientists also are sceptical about how long the resistance of Bt Brinjal against FSB will last. If previous studies on evolution are to be relied upon, organisms quickly develop resistance and mutate. When that happens, Bt Brinjal will lose its ability to fight FSB.
Another practical hurdle in India is how to inform customers about Bt Brinjal varieties. Labels can be falsified, and this robs the choice of the consumer. With no scientific consensus among most state governments supporting commercialization, Bt Brinjal remains banned in India.
FAQs on Bt Brinjal
Q1: Does Bt Brinjal eliminate the need to use insecticides and pesticides?
A: Bt Brinjal is naturally resistant to FSB and drastically reduces the need for insecticides. However, it does not eliminate the need. Insecticides are needed for other pests for which Bt Brinjal has no resistance.
Q2: What does Bt stand for in Bt Brinjal?
A: Bt in Bt brinjal stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, the soil bacterium from which the gene cry1Ac was separated. This gene was inserted into the brinjal fruit, turning it into Bt Brinjal.
Q3: Since when is Bt Brinjal banned in India?
A: After deliberations with scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and other experts, the government of India banned Bt Brinjal in 2010.
Q4: Who developed Bt Brinjal?
A: A company called Maharashtra Hybrids Seeds Company Ltd or Mahyco developed Bt Brinjal.