The National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) yesterday officially released the country's first genetically modified (GM) food crop, brinjal, which is infused with pest-resistant gene.
The decision was taken following a two-day meeting of the NCB, the highest regulatory body for GM crop release, held at the environment ministry with its secretary in the chair.
With this decision, Bangladesh becomes the 29th country in the world to grow GM crop. In South Asia, India, Pakistan and Myanmar grow GM crop cotton. With the NCB nod, Bangladesh becomes the first in the region to grow a GM food crop.
Scientists at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) genetically engineered brinjal, one of the most consumed vegetables in the country, by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) taken from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, otherwise known as Bt. Since then it has been known as Bt Brinjal.
The Bt gene insertion in brinjal gives it resistance against fruit and shoot borer (FSB), considered to be the most widespread and devastating pest in South and Southeast Asia. FSB infestations inflict 50 to 70 percent yearly crop loss in brinjal.
Officials present at the NCB meeting yesterday confirmed The Daily Star that four varieties of Bt Brinjal -- Bt Brinjal-1 (Uttara), Bt Brinjal-2 (Kajla), Bt Brinjal-3 (Nayantara), and Bt Brinjal-4 (Iswardi local) -- would first be released on limited scales as per a production manual following biosafety guidelines.
Uttara would be released in Rajshahi region, Kajla in Barisal, Nayantara in Rangpur and Dhaka regions, and Iswardi Local in Pabna and Chittagong regions, said the officials.
Detailed plan of variety releases, seed multiplications, and best practices in farmers' field-level production would be worked out soon, the sources added.
Though it will be the country's first homegrown GM crop, consumers in the country have long been exposed to GM food through consumption of imported GM soybean oil.
GM crops are derived from traditional plant varieties by altering their genetic makeup in laboratories for faster growth, resistance to pests, production of extra nutrients, or any other beneficial purpose. This is usually done by adding one or more genes to a plant's genome using genetic engineering techniques.
The Bt Brinjal release decision came amidst outcry by a section of Green groups, who consider GM crops to be counter-productive for ecology and fear potential health risks.