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[genet-news] APPROVAL & FOOD: Bt brinjal may be released commercially by year-end in India

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Business Standard, India



DATE:   15.04.2009

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Bt brinjal, the country?s first genetically modified (GM) edible product, is in the final stage of getting a clearance from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the biotechnology regulatory body of the Government of India.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company-(Mahyco-) developed Bt brinjal had run into trouble last year with the Union health ministry and consumer organisations raising questions about its safety with regard to health.

Addressing a press conference here on Tuesday, Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director (research), Mahyco, said, ?We have already got the GEAC?s permission to produce Bt brinjal seeds for field trials, which have been completed. The scientific papers and data of the field trials have been submitted by the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM). It has been tested to be absolutely safe. We have applied for the commercial release of Bt brinjal seeds to the GEAC and hope it will be approved by the end of this year.?

In 2006, Mahyco, a leading seed company in India, which had successfully introduced cutting-edge biotech products such as Bt cotton hybrids, had applied for the commercial release of Bt brinjal, but GEAC had asked the company to conduct some more studies.

Mahyco had completed those studies and submitted the reports along with the application for commercial release again in 2008, Zehr said.

About the NGO campaigns against the release of Bt brinjal, fuelled by global studies questioning the health and safety of genetically modified edible products, Zehr claimed that in terms of composition, it was not different from the normal brinjal, except for the additional Bt protein. It would also improve the marketable yield, she said.

A major constraint in brinjal production is plant infestation by fruit shoot borers or FSBs. The pest can cause significant yield loss and reduce the number of marketable fruits.

The marketable yield loss due to FSBs is almost 45-60 per cent. Experts had estimated that financial loss to the country because of this 45-60 per cent damage was equivalent to Rs 1,000 crore a year, Zehr said. Bt brinjal can reduce this loss to 10 per cent, she claimed. Moreover, farmers would require 70 per cent less insecticides to fight FSBs in this case, she explained.

In India, brinjal is cultivated on 550,000 hectares with average produce of 30 tonnes.

According to a study by Mahyco, farmers invested about Rs 100 per pesticide spray per acre for anywhere between 40 and 45 sprays on the 90-day brinjal crop, depending upon the type of infestation, Zehr pointed out.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: The Hindu Business Line, India



DATE:   15.04.2009

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Plans maximising coverage under the new variety.

The technology has been extended to Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and East West Seed, a private firm in Bangladesh,

Kolkata, April 14 The Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco) is to license to other seed-growing companies the technology for the pest-resistant genetically modified Bt brinjal, according to its Joint Director of Research, Ms Usha Barwale Zehr.


The Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation has cleared the scientific data on the new crop and the commercial launch is expected after the final approval by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the Ministry of Environment and Forest by this year, she said.

?The idea is to maximise the coverage under the new variety,? Ms Zehr said on the sidelines of a press conference here on Tuesday.

Crop coverage

The licensees may account for over 50 per cent of the proposed acreage, she said adding the balance would be marketed through its own distribution and sales network.

Currently, brinjal is grown on a total of 5,50,000 hectares in the country, of which nearly 1,64,000 hectares are under cultivation in West Bengal, the highest brinjal-growing state.

The company is awaiting a patent for its event identification technology, the technique of injecting the Bt (bascillus thuringiensis) protein into the genome of the brinjal. It has already extended the technology to Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and East West Seed, a private seed growing company in Bangladesh, Ms Zehr said.

Extending cotton tech

Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Pvt Ltd, the joint venture between Mahyco seeds and Monsanto Holdings Pvt Ltd of the US, has so far licensed a similar technology applied in Bt cotton to 23 seed growing companies and the licensees contribute 60 per cent of the total cultivated area under the genetically modified cotton.

Bt cotton, currently the only commercially marketed crop produced by Bt technology in the country, accounts for over 80 per cent of the total cotton cultivating area.

While consumer groups and certain NGOs have expressed concerns over the consumption of Bt brinjals, Ms Zehr said the vegetable had passed all the safety standards set by the Government and external private agencies.

Lower pesticide use

?With Bt brinjal, farmers need to use 70 per cent less insecticides,? she said adding that the new variety would also help in checking wastage. The wastage in Bt brinjal would be 4-10 per cent as against 40-65 per cent in the normal variety.

?The cost advantage would result in a 116 per cent increase in market yield, while the productivity would rise by 8-13 per cent over the current average yield of 30 tonnes a hectare,? she said.

The company is also working on using Bt technology in other vegetables such as tomato, cabbage, cauliflower and okra, she said.



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