Sunday, February 07, 2010

Controller of Brinjals

Why is the Govt hell-bent on introducing Bt Brinjal? Surely, this is not the most pressing need of the country?

As we know from the “Yes Minister’ episodes, there is more to Govt decisions than what meets the eye. More often than not, major decisions are taken based on completely mistaken premises.

In one of his articles, R.K.Narayan described a dream he had had. The Controller of Stores, a Dept of the Govt, places a large order for stationery. Unfortunately, when the letter-heads and envelopes arrive, the name of the department is found to be misspelled as “Controller of Stories”. Not wanting to admit the mistake or waste the stationery, the Govt goes ahead and creates a new department that would have the mandate of controlling or censoring stories.

A similar thing must have happened to Bt brinjal. When an application came in from a US company seeking permission to bring in GM technology, some bureaucrat must have cleared the file presuming that it was General Motors trying to introduce yet another new car into the Indian market. And, considering the weird names that they give to cars nowadays, he must have been convinced that the name of the new car model was Brinjal and that the pre-fix ‘bt’ was a stylized abbreviation of ‘battery’ or ‘butane’ or ‘’byte’ or whatever.

Once the mistake was noticed, there was no option but to put on a brave face and pass on the file to the MOEF.

That's how the poor, humble Jairam Ramesh is left holding the baby brinjal.


Dilip Muralidaran said...

I disagree. India has the worlds largest numbers in terms of farmers committing suicide due to debt conditions which are a result of poor yield and almost absent good margins on crop harvest. Introducing high yielding & pest resistant variety of brinjal means the farmer spends less and makes more money. Lesser torture from the money lending thugs and lesser chance of hanging by the rope due to poverty.

India has been consuming GM crops safely ever since the greem revolution. To say GM crops are untested and dangerous is complete lack of understanding how much testing goes into GM food.

If organic food was subject to all the tests GM foods are subject to almost no organic crop would pass these tests. These range from presence of pesticide residue to protein compounds in such food items.

If we cannot help out farmers survive, much harm looms in the near future on an economy like India which is heavily dependent on agriculture.

Raj said...

Dilip,I see you have introduced a serious tone to a goofy post....

On GM foods, I believe that the jury is still out. If the stated intention is to stop farmers suicide due to debt, then the Vidarbha incidents relating to bt cotton will put paid to such hopes.

No less an expert than Dr M.S.Swaminathan has urged caution and a more detailed study, instead of rushing things through. Note that he has not taken a position on bt brinjal, per se. All he is saying is that we must convince ourselves that the benefits must outweight the potential harm.

Geetesh said...

@Dilip, I think you are confused between hybrid and genetically modified. My hybrid seeds were introduced during the Green revolution, but the technology of genetically modifying anything was just not developed at that time, either in India or any where in the world.

As of now, there is no GM food produced or sold in India. I am not aware of any GM crop other than Bt cotton that is grown in India.


Geetesh said...

*Many hybrid seeds... (not My!) typo!

sanjay said...

I agree with Dilip's take. I believe Mr Ramesh goofed by taking the Bt brinjal issue public and he ended up hopelessly confused by the sheer volume of the loud & acrimonious voices emanating from all sides. An atrocious decision for Indian farmers and for India.

Dilip Muralidaran said...

@Geetesh: There is no such thing called "Non GM Food" on earth. All food is genetically modified in the crudest way by man over 1000's of years for his consumption. Our crude cross pollination & bio-chemical modification techniques have resulted in tastier + more edible food (banana for example & rice/wheat/maize) but also has borrowed much of the pest & disease characteristics have been borrowed and crossed over as well. What we are doing with Green Biotechnology is that we are selectively analyzing what we want to modify with predictable outcomes (instead of shooting in the dark we do right now) that enables sustainable farming techniques.

The wheat you eat is a result of Norman Borlaug's effort during the green revolution period in India. Please refer to pages of agricultural history from 1960 - 1990 and you would know better.

To call dwarf wheat as organic food is extremely unfortunate.

Geetesh said...

@ Dilip, Again, you are confusing "hybrid" with genetically engineered.

just google "list of genetically modified crops" or something. The first result itself gives a list of approved (in the US) genetically engineered foods. This only has 11 items and not all of them are food. I hope you agree that human cultivate more than 11 different crops. And hence, does indeed exist a thing called as a non-GM crop.

Also, ...We should always remember that BT Brinjal is the first genetically modified vegetable in the world...

Anu said...

I will add to the argument by quoting science writer Matt Ridley:

If you have the time and the interest, you can go through this:
It gave me a lot to think about!

Dilip Muralidaran said...

@Geetesh: Hybrid varieties were manufactured by way of chemical modification, radiation & blindly cross breeding high yield varieties. In layman terminology, that is indeed genetically modifying a crop variety ins a crude way. Please understand, any change in a crop is genetic modification of such a crop.

Biotechnology takes away this crudeness and introduces what we have been missing all along. Accuracy and predictability of resulting crop behavior.

I'm not confused on Hybrid crops, i fear it is you who fail to recognize every change in a crop is a change in its genetic code. Organic farming has messed with our environment much. The main ingredient of pesticide residue in water is DDT. Ever wonder where all that DDT came from? Remember those Doordharshan ads during our schooldays that advised farmers to use DDT & Urea?

With the current organic farming techniques, we need 85% and more land area to feed the world population of 8 billion by 2040. That means ploughing & cultivating the sahara/thar desert/amazon/grand canyon. GMO's will reduce land usage and will take a mere 38% of the land we currently require to farm our food crops. Sustainable agriculture can never be achieved through organic farming. Its simple mathematics, do your arithmetic and answer these questions.

Anonymous said...

i've eaten bt brinjals... they taste quite the same.. wonder what the fuzz is about

ramesh said...

haha lovely article .. and where did anonymous find the brinjals?? in an government vault marked top secret in manipuR??