Pashtapur: Leading Canadian-Indian microbiologist Shiv Chopra has praised Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for putting a moratorium on Bt Brinjal and says selection of the "minor vegetable" for genetic modification and its commercial cultivation was a clever strategy to spread the Bt gene "to other crops".
"If GM (genetically modified crops) succeeds in India, it will be the most common method of growing food worldwide," Chopra said, warning of biodiversity loss and high carbon emission from mono-cultures.
Chopra was addressing a gathering of farmers at the Deccan Development Society's XI mobile Biodiversity Festival, in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh.
"Bt food is an issue of people who eat the food. Fortunately, our Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has done a wonderful job to save India from Bt," Chopra said.
"Bt Brinjal issue is not a matter of agriculture or environment. It is an issue of public health," added the scientist who did his college education in Punjab before moving to Canada.
The scientist smelt a conspiracy in the effort to make brinjal the first genetically modified food crop in India "Many people don't want to eat brinjal, children hate it. So why do you think brinjal was chosen to be the first Bt food crop?" Chopra asked IANS.
"Brinjal belongs to the Solanaceae family, botanically a family of crops to which also belongs popular vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and spices such chillies. Those who promote Bt crops hope that if the first Bt crop in India is a minor vegetable present everywhere, its cultivation will spread quietly."
"The promoters know very well that Bt gene is capable of being blown in the wind and spreading to other crops from the same family.
"Once Bt Brinjal is widely grown, there is no need to introduce Bt Potato or Bt Tomato. In a couple of decades potato, tomato, chilli will contain the Bt gene, and no tomato or potato crop can be grown by the farmer naturally. Only the Bt species will thrive. Even grass family crops like rice and maize can get contaminated," he argued.
Bt Brinjal is a transgenic brinjal created by inserting a gene (Cry 1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt) into brinjal.
The insertion of the gene into the vegetable is said to give the plant resistance against insects like the brinjal fruit and shoot borer. Upon ingestion of the Bt toxin, the insect's digestive processes are disrupted, ultimately resulting in its death.
When asked why the Bt camp was focusing on India, Chopra told IANS: "They know that India has grown thousands of varieties of native crops successfully for 6,000 years or more. There is historical record of rice and cotton grown in India in Alexander's time. That Indians are good at hybridisation and breeding."
Chopra, who is known as a whistle blower scientist in Canada, warned Indian farmers against allowing high-fructose GM corn and GM sugarcane cultivation, a plea that the agriculture ministry has made to meet the sugar shortage in India.
GM corn and sugarcane are grown in the US, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, Bolivia and Australia.
While criticising scientists who support genetically modified crops, Chopra took a dig at Govindarajan Padmanabhan, former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, for saying that the government's public consultation on Bt crop "risks drowning out the measured voice of real scientists".