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ISIS Press Release 09/02/09

Bt Brinjal Unfit for Human Consumption

Expert independent scientist verdict contradicts Indian regulatory authorities on biosafety of GM aubergine
Sam Burcher

Release of Bt brinjal into the environment for food, feed and cultivation may present a serious risk for human and animal health; the GM aubergine is unfit for consumption [1] . That's the verdict of French scientist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), who carried out the first ever independent assessment of Monsanto-Mahyco's dossier on toxicity tests submitted to the Indian regulatory authorities.

Professor Seralini, commissioned by Greenpeace India to undertake the assessment, said his key findings were statistically significant differences between groups of animals fed GM and non-GM brinjal in the raw data, which were discounted rather than used to raise food safety concerns and to call for further investigation [2]. Although the differences were not reported in the dossier summaries, they remained visible in the raw experimental data. These differences, seen by Monsanto-Mahyco, were deemed biologically irrelevant, and disregarded on the grounds that they were within a wide ‘reference' group of brinjal types.

Health impacts
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On health effects, Seralini found that:

  • Bt brinjal produces a protein in the vegetable cells that induce antibiotic resistance. This is recognised as a major health problem and is inappropriate for commercialised use. It may also indicate that old GM technology is being used as the technology has already moved on from antibiotic resistance marker genes.
  • Bt brinjal appears to have 15 percent less calories and different alkaloid content compared to non-GM brinjal. It contains 16-17 mg/kg Bt insecticide toxin. When fed to animals, effects were observed on blood chemistry with significant differences according to the sex of the animal or period of measurement. Other effects were on blood clotting time (prothrombin), total bilirubin (liver health), and alkaline phosphate in goats and rabbits.
  • Changes in lactating cows were observed in increased weight gain, intake of more dry roughage matter and milk production up by 10-14 percent as if they were treated by a hormone.
  • Rats fed Bt brinjal had diarrhoea, increased water consumption; decrease in liver weight, and liver to body weight.
  • Feed intake was modified in broiler chickens.

According to Seralini, “This makes for a very coherent picture of Bt brinjal that is potentially unsafe for human consumption. The GM brinjal cannot be considered as safe as its non GM counterpart.” In addition, he says that the longest toxicity test were only for 90 days, which does not assess long-term effects such as the development of cancers or tumours. Furthermore, he considers it potentially unsafe to eat animals with the health problems that had been fed Bt brinjal.

Environmental impacts

Seralini criticises the lack of studies directed at non-target organisms such as butterflies and moths. He believes it is almost impossible through measurements of toxicity in a few species of non-target organisms to get a sufficient view of the possible harm to complicated ecosystems, which may vary from place to place in India . He says that extant studies give no assurances that growing Bt brinjal will be safe for the environment, as they lack information on the indirect effect on the food chain as a whole, particularly with the regard to gene flow, and the possibility of GM contamination of neighbouring brinjal crops.

Bt toxins unsafe

Bt toxins are derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringenesis ; natural Bt toxins have never been authorised for mammalian consumption and are known to be harmful to health (see GM Egg Plant Contains Bt Toxin Linked to Hundreds of Allergy Cases and Thousands of Sheep Deaths [3]).Seralini's appraisal also cautions against synthetic and genetically modified Bt toxins such as the hybrid toxin contained in Bt brinjal that mixes two toxins, the Cry 1 Ab and Cry1Ac engineered sequences together. Another flaw in the Monsanto-Mayhco toxicity tests on non-target insects was that the single toxin Cry1Ac was used because this was easier than the hybrid.

Debjeet Sarangi, speaking for GM Free India said he was surprised that the regulatory bodies did not consider it appropriate to consult the Health Minister, as well as doctors' groups and vetinary associations before pushing this highly toxic food down the gullets of an uninformed public. “This is not science,” he said. If regulators such as the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had been doing long term research to assess the claims of GM crop companies and taken up the analysis of the company's data itself then the two year large scale trials of Bt brinjal approved in 2007 would not have been allowed to go ahead. In fact, the results only came to light when a Supreme Court battle forced GEAC to put the Monsanto-Mahyco test dossier on Bt brinjal into the public domain.

Collective no to GMO

Brinjal ( Solanum melongena ) also known as aubergine or egg plant is an important vegetable in India 's food culture and consumed every day by rich and poor alike. Concern about GM crops and Bt brinjal in particular has prompted the PMK ( Pattali Makkal Katchi) party Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss to speak out against them, and the first government minister to do so . He said [4]: “When there are so many indigenous varieties of brinjal in each region of India , where is there a need to borrow this Bt brinjal from other countries?” He called for collective opposition to GM crops and has the support of farmers, consumers, environmental organisations, and women's and organic farming groups from all over India .

India is the home of brinjal, where it has been cultivated for four thousand years without the help of fertilizers or pesticides. So far, over 70 000 Indians have signed the “I am No Lab Rat” anti-GM protest in India that is also battling large scale cultivation of Bt cotton (see Mass Protests against GM Crops in India, [5] SiS 38). GM Free India says that alternative strategies for pest management exist and pests only became a problem after the introduction of the Green Revolution. Agriculture is a culture that should receive holistic treatment and not the piecemeal introduction of highly toxic inputs that poison a regions daily food.

References

  1. Mahyco's Bt brinjal unsafe for human consumption: French Scientist. Orissadiary correspondent; Bhubaneswar Tuesday January 13, 2009 http://www.orissadiary.com/CurrentNews.asp?id=10068
  2. Press Release Bt Brinjal. January 9, 2009 [email protected]
  3. Ho. M.W. Cummins J. GM egg plant contains Bt toxin linking to hundreds of allergy cases and thousands of sheep deaths. ISIS Report, 13 July 2006, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMeggplant.php
  4. Union Health Minister expresses opposition to GM crops Orissadiary correspondent; Bhubaneswar . Wednesday, December 10, 2008 http://www.orissadiary.com/CurrentNews.asp?id=9525
  5. Kurunganti K. Mass protests against GM crops in India . Science in Society 38, 25-26, 2008.

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