Feature: Bangladesh activists hit selling of genetically-modified crops without proper labeling

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People in Bangladesh could hardly know whether or not what they eat on their tables are genetically- modified (GM) varieties of vegetable as the authorities allowed farmers to sell a variety of brinjal, modified under a U.S.-funded project, violating biosafety regulations.

Biosafety experts and food rights activists here have called for an immediate stop in the marketing of the aburgin variety known as Bt- brinjal since, according to them, there has been no study conducted on the effects of the GM variety on public health. They cited India and the Philippines as already having banned GM agricultural produce.

The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has been piloting GM brinjal cultivation with financial support worth about 600,000 U.S. dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (US-AID) and Cornell University apparently to meet domestic demands for vegetable in the South Asian country of over 160 million people.

As the demand for brinjal goes up during the Muslims' fasting month of Ramadan, farmers in at least 17 districts, where the government was piloting the cultivation, have been selling the GM variety without any labels let alone any certification about the possible health hazards of the GM variety.

Environmental activists have been opposing the aburgin production,expressing serious concerns about the biological and health hazards of the GM crops.

Pavel Partha, an ecologist, said: "The conditions the Department of Environment has given to the authorities concerned for aburgin production were all violated. There was no proper labeling and there was no biosafety committee to monitor the production and selling. So, it is a corporate crime."

He also said that Monsanto, an agricultural firm, is now the cultivator of nine aburgin variety in Bangladesh. "Public health and environmental health are simply ignored due to the interest of giant companies," Partha said.

Before issuing permission to cultivate aburgin, the Bangladesh Ministry of Environment has imposed conditions that BARI must satisfy technical demands to ensure that test fields were suitable and to protect local varieties and wild plants from receiving pollen from the GM plants.

The ministry also added that prior to the release of the crops, the institute must formulate field production planning, particularly field biosafety management planning. It also stipulated that Bt brinjal sold in markets should be clearly labeled as GM.

Sources at BARI said that the institute did not conduct any laboratory test regarding the possible negative impact of the controversial GM crop on the soil, insects, and on the health of farmers and consumers.

Indian research firm Mahyco, in which Monsanto has 26 percent stake, developed the brinjal varieties for BARI with the financial support of U.S.-AID. India has banned Mahyco's Bt brinjal in 2010 after its harmful effects were exposed.

The same group earlier developed brinjal varieties in the Philippines. But its cultivation was stopped by a court order, which gave due consideration to possible health hazards of genetically-modifie crops. GM crops are now banned in a number of countries around the world. Endi

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