NaturalNews) A program to test a variety of genetically modified (GM) eggplant in Bangladesh is in shambles, but continues to be forced through by the government, according to an independent investigation by the development policy research group UBINIG.
UBINIG launched the investigation after hearing the government proclaim that the GM eggplant – engineered to produce the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) pesticide in its tissues – was a great benefit to farmers. The group obtained the list of all 110 farmers participating in the experimental cultivation program overseen by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Cornell University. It interviewed 72 percent of the farmers about their experiences with the crop. Respondents came from all the regions where Bt eggplant (known by its local name “brinjal”) is being tested.
Poor quality, poor yields
Overall, farmers reported poor yields, high chemical use and a high level of government interference. Officials from BARI and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) regularly visited the fields to make sure the plants were doing well.
“During the field cultivation the farmers were extensively supervised by BARI and DAE officials,” the report reads. “The DAE officials at Union, Upazila and district levels visited daily or at least weekly and supervised the growth of the plants.”
The report goes on to add that, “According to the farmers, most of the time, the officials took care of the plants themselves as they had to show a good performance.”
In some cases, the investigators found, officials actually uprooted dying plants and replaced them with healthy ones, in a blatant violation of scientific integrity.
Despite the claims of Bt brinjal advocates that it would require significantly less pesticide use than non-GM varieties, farmers reported that authorities directed them to apply pesticide in enormous quantities.
“Thirty-five types of pesticides, including acaricide [kills ticks and mites], insecticide, and fungicide, were sprayed several times in the Bt brinjal fields,” the report reads. None of these pesticides were on the list of chemicals officially recommended for eggplant cultivation in Bangladesh. Five were insecticides that are actually banned in the country.
The farmers were then given “pesticide-free” signs and told to use them to market their crops. The crops were also sold without being labeled as GM, in violation of government rules.
In spite of these measures, farmers reported low yields and losses of Tk. 15,000–30,000 (US$ 192–385). Farmers in similar regions growing non-GM eggplant reported profits of Tk. 70,000–100,000 ($898–1,280).
Part of this problem came from the fact that even under an enormous pesticide load, the GM plants were ravaged by a wide variety of pests. The GM eggplant also lost its freshness quickly, making it harder to sell. Most farmers ended up simply eating the crop themselves, but reported disliking its flavor.
Farmers were widely negative about the crop, with 74 percent saying they would not grow the plant again. Another 20 percent said they would only grow it if all the support came from BARI and DAE, while only one farmer was unequivocally interested in continuing to grow the GM eggplant.
One farmer called the GM eggplant a “worthless crop” while another, Shamsul Haque of Pabna, commented that “The DAE officers were right in their statement that there is no fruit borer in Bt brinjal. The fact is that there was no fruit on the plants. So there is no object for fruit borers to be there.”
UBINIG found that farmers during the first year of the trial had also been widely dissatisfied. BARI failed to publish results of this trial however, and simply recruited a whole new group of farmers for year two – and did not warn them how year one had gone.
To top it off, no reputable data attests to the GM eggplant’s safety, but at least one industry study found that rats who consumed it suffered organ damage.
Between the scandals, the dissatisfied farmers and the failing crops, UBINIG concluded that the Bt eggplant would long since have failed if not for BARI and DAE maintaining it like “a patient in an intensive care unit under life support.”