The Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited), propagators of the controversial Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal seeds, could not convince the media on the safety aspects of their technology, at a press conference held here on Thursday.
The company officials enumerated at least 25 different biosafety and food/feed safety studies on Bt Brinjal since 2002, but in a significant omission, they failed to mention that all of the studies were financed by Mahyco itself. The conflict of interest in such studies were not mentioned by neither the general manager Mahendra Sharma nor by their biotechnology head Dr. Bharat Char, who attended the press conference.
Even while the so-called safety studies were on, the company officials admitted that there was no way that they could test these products on human beings. ``But you see, cotton oil is edible and cotton oil cakes are ingested by cattle. So these genes and their products have been in the ecosystem for quite a while now,'' justified Sharma.
While the major aim of using Bt Brinjal is to reduce the dependence on pesticides to fight the fruit and shoot borer, Mahyco officials explained that the pesticide dependence could only be reduced by 42 percent, as the crop would be susceptible to other pests too. So ultimately the farmer is left to deal with pesticide residue as well as Bt-toxin residue in the food crop.
Replying to a question whether they would be willing to label their brinjal as genetically modified, so as to enable a choice for the general public, the Mahyco officials were ambiguous stating: ``We will do all that the Government requires us to do.''
The ambiguity also extended to the question on antibiotics resistance transfer and the jumping of the bt-gene, Cry1AC, from plant to other systems.
Admitting the possibility of gene transfer through pollen from Bt Brinjal, Mahyco officials said that Bt Brinjal would have to be planted with a buffer zone of normal brinjal.
The company officials also admitted that the seeds that they sell is of hybrid nature and cannot be used for successive generations, leaving the farmer dependent on the company for his next crop, a case similar to that of the terminator seed.