One of the claims Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh made to justify his freeze on Bt brinjal was that the Bt gene would destroy the medicinal properties of brinjal which is used in several traditional forms of medicine.
This claim,too,is being contested by experts as Ramesh comes under increasing pressure from within his government the Prime Minister has called a meeting after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar warned against ad hoc decisions on GM food that could set the clock back and demoralise Indian scientists.
I have also been informed that Indian systems of medicine,including ayurveda,siddha,homeopathy and unani,use brinjal as a medicinal ingredient both in raw and cooked form for treatment of respiratory diseases and that the entire brinjal plant is used in such preparations, said Ramesh in his written statement while announcing the freeze.
There is fear that Bt brinjal will destroy these medicinal properties due to loss of synergy,differences in the alkaloids and changes in other active principles.
Significantly,the governments Department of Ayurveda,Yoga and Naturopathy,Unani,Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH),which falls under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,was not consulted on the issue,a senior official has confirmed to The Indian Express.
When contacted today,Ramesh said: There are different points of view,thats why we need more clarity.
Experts counter his reasoning.
For one,C Nayak,Director General of Central Council for Research in Homeopathy,told The Indian Express that no variety of brinjal is used in homeopathic medicine.
Even in ayurveda or unani,experts say,not more than five wild varieties of the almost 300 types of brinjal are used. The brinjal that we eat does not have any medicinal value, said Darshan Shankar,who launched the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions in Bangalore and advises the Planning Commission on the Indian system of medicine.
Certain wild varieties,which have a slightly different biochemical composition,do have medicinal properties and these are frequently used in the Indian system of medicine formal like ayurveda or unani as well as oral or folk forms. The effect of Bt gene on these varieties isnt clear and we dont even know whether the gene is proposed to be introduced in these wild varieties too, said Shankar.
If the gene is supposed to be introduced only in varieties that are normally eaten by people,we need to ascertain whether this gene would migrate to wild varieties. I dont think there have been enough experiments to conclude that the medicinal properties would be destroyed, he said.
A scientist who is a member of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) which cleared Bt brinjal,said on the condition that he not be named that the only change the Bt gene brings in brinjal is in its ability to fight the fruit and shoot borer that destroys the brinjal plant. Every other quality of Bt brinjal remains the same as that of non-Bt brinjal, he said.
G S Lavekar,Director General of Central Council for Research on Ayurveda and Siddha,said brinjal was used for treatment of bronchitis and insomnia. Calling for more tests,he admitted that there was no evidence so far that the Bt gene interfered with brinjals medicinal properties.