Enviro journalist Lynas provides video evidence on Bangladesh Bt eggplant failure claim: GM crops thriving

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Farmers in Bangladesh with their health Bt brinjal plants. Image via MarkLynas.org

In early April, a controversy erupted over a report in Bangladesh newspaper The Financial Express that claimed Bt brinjal (eggplant), Bangladesh’s only approved genetically modified crop, was failing in several fields. Correspondent, Yasir Wardad, based his report on his visit to the Bt brinjal fields of farmers Haidul Islam and Mojibur Rahman in Gazipur, Bangladesh:

Bt brinjal, introduced in the country by the government for its pest resistance, has severely been attacked by pests this season for which farmers are now forced to spray a lot of pesticides, farmers alleged. … Visiting his [Islam’s] brinjal field on Tuesday, the FE correspondent found 25-30 percent of the plants dead and the rest struggling for survival.

The article was widely circulated by anti-GMO activist sites. Similar articles have appeared elsewhere, the most recent example in the Bangladeshi tabloid newspaper, New Age, known for its sensationalist spin on stories:

Farmers in Gazipur who were given the controversial Bt brinjal saplings have said they would no more cultivate the genetically engineered crop as the cultivation has ruined them. During a spot visit on Monday at four Bt brinjal fields in Gazipur, New Age found that Bt brinjal plants faced several troubles – they did not grow up and came under attack of different pests including shoot borers.

But photos and a video documentary by prominent environmental journalist Mark Lynas show that the reports are not true. He visited the same farm a day before New Age claims to have gone there and documented what he saw. He also went to several other farms to investigate the performance of Bt brinjal. Watch the video:

Bt brinjal is the first GM crop cultivated in South Asia. Engineered to resist the fruit and shoot borer, one of the most destructive pests for brinjal, Bt brinjal was approved last October for limited cultivation in Bangladesh. Bt brinjal is a public sector project owned and led by government-run Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in collaboration with scientists at Cornell University, with funding from USAID. Lynas noted that high stakes are involved in the successful commercialization of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh:

This is South Asia’s first GMO food crop, and has been developed in the public sector for distribution to resource-poor smallholder farmers. The powerful anti-GMO lobby knows that if Bangladeshi farmers successfully adopt this new crop, other GMO crops in the pipeline such as Golden Rice (also being developed in Bangladesh) will be advantaged and their cause of banning the technology permanently will be harmed.

Healthy Bt brinjal free of pest infestation in Bangladeshi fields. Photo via MarkLynas.org

Lynas was not the only one to visit the farmers in Bangladesh to find out what really happened. Tony Shelton, a professor from Cornell who was in Bangladesh conducting environmental safety assessments for the Bt brinjal project, visited Haidul Islam’s farm and reported that his fields with Bt brinjal were doing fine. His testimony:

I visited Haidul Islam’s Bt brinjal fields on April 9. Mr. Islam was the same farmer whose crop the Financial Express on April 7 alleged was ridden with insects that Mr. Islam was spraying with insecticides. I found the exact opposite to be true. Mr. Islam and his associate proudly showed me his field of Bt brinjal. It was free of pest damage, and they were very pleased with the crop.

BARI officials also went to Islam’s fields on the same day that Wardad’s article in Financial Express appeared. Their report:

The BARI delegation reports that the Bt brinjal crop in farmer Haidul Islam’s field is currently “healthy and infestation-free”. The project team also spoke to the supposedly distressed farmer Haidul Islam, who revealed that the story began when two young men visited his farm and told him that he was growing a “poisonous” crop on his vegetable patch which would be bad for the health of him and his family.

Financial Express journalist Wardad did not contact BARI or Cornell University researchers involved in the Bt brinjal project for comment. Financial Express later published an editorial acknowledging the backlash against their reporter’s story, but did not correct or retract the original article.

In his visit to the Bangladeshi farms, Lynas found that the farmers have also planted conventional brinjal near their Bt brinjal fields in order to compare their performances. Having no innate protection against the fruit and shoot borer, the conventional brinjal plants were infested. Lynas then suggested that the journalists could have made a mistake in identifying the Bt brinjal, leading to the false claims:

So the most likely explanation for these reports of Bt brinjal having failed is that visitors have misidentified the non-Bt controls, not realizing the difference.

  • Vm

    seems the anti gmo religion has to make up stuff

    • pew pew laser beams

      you want facts, even if gmos are perfectly safe and super healthy, the seeds are patented and do not belong to the farmers but to monsanto infinitely, do you think its a good idea to have all the food patented and owned by a corporation, I think thats a terrible idea.

      • Jon Entine

        No “food” is patented. Seeds are patented. They have been patented for more than 90 years. All hybrid seeds, including those seeds used by organic farmers, are patented until the patents run out and then they are not patented. Yes, I think–I know– patents are a fantastic idea and it is one of the main reasons we’ve had such advances in seed technology. Farmers agree with me as well. No one puts a gun to their head. If a farmer wants to use a non patented seed, they can do so. Few do..including few organic farmers. We would not have advanced organic agriculture if we did not have patenting because no one would spend the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to develop high quality seeds. Farmers can buy less productive no patented seeds if they like. There are far more non patented seeds or seeds in which patents have run out than there are patented seeds. Farmers in Africa mostly use non patented seeds, which is one key reason why their farms are about 20% as productive of those farms in the western world, where most farmers use patented seeds. The patenting of seeds has been endorsed by the US Supreme Court in unanimous verdicts and by courts around the world.

        • pew pew laser beams

          Except monsanto sues farmers who replant gmo seeds produced from the seed they buy. plus gmos are know to contaminate non gmo crops, with devastating consequences for the farmers that aren’t able to export to some markets.
          Your explanation of the 20% of production in africa is nitpicking, look at france agriculture production where gmos are as a fair reference, theres no evidence that gmos increase yield btw.

          • Monsanto has never sued a farmer that mistakenly planted a GMO seed. It rightly sues farmers who break their contractual agreement and illegally plant seeds. So do all other seed companies. Some GMO crops increase yield, some do not. Bt crops are designed to decrease the use of insecticides. US insecticide US is down 80% in corn, soybeans and cotton since 1996 as a direct result of using GMOs. Germplasm improvements from traditional breeding have contributed to modest but steady increases in yield. Marker-assisted breeding has nearly doubled the rate of yield gain when compared to traditional breeding alone.

            GM traits, such as insect and herbicide tolerance, help to increase yields by protecting the yield that would otherwise be lost due to insects or weeds. The degree to which a farmer enjoys increased yields because of insect and herbicide tolerance traits will in large part be determined by how effective the farmer’s weed and insect control programs were before planting a crop with these traits. If weeds and insects had been controlled well, then the insect and herbicide tolerance traits will not be the primary factor in increasing yield.

            In developing countries, where resources to effectively control weeds and insects are often limited, these traits have increased yield substantially. The same is also true for developed countries where there are particular pests that are hard to control–such as the corn rootworm complex or some perennial weeds.

            PG Economics, which annually tallies the yields of GM crops, has crunched the data of published studies as to whether GM crops increase yield:

            –Mexico – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.

            –Romania – yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.

            –Philippines – average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.

            –Philippines – average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.

            –Hawaii – virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.

            –India – insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.

      • Vm

        well then, if thats all then you should have no problems with GM plants that are given free to small farmers like golden rice or with possible future advances in GM technology where – just like desktop publishing and 3d printing – small corporations and even small groups like farmer’s cooperatives can make their own GM crops

      • Vm

        on a side note, if a patent expires like with medicines then no one owns the patent and anyone can make the medicine. this has resulted in cheap and effective generic medications made by manufacturers all over the world

        ” Chief Executive Hugh Grant says the company will let patents on its
        bioengineered farm seeds expire without a fight, starting with its
        ubiquitous Roundup Ready soybeans in 2014. The move would allow rivals
        to make cheaper knockoffs—and farmers to plant these seeds from their
        own harvests—without legal restriction for the first time since 1996.”

        http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_05/b4165019364939.htm

  • Michael Moulds

    It’s still poison, even if it does grow great.

    • Evidence please?

      • pew pew laser beams

        gmos are really good, everyone should feed their kids with 2 to 3 meals a day with food containing gmos. Unfortunately I can´t eat them since they are banned in europe : I don´t understand americans they are so lucky to have gmos and they still complain about it… some people don’t appreciate what they have.

        • Jon Entine

          Actually they are not banned in any country in Europe. Some countries restrict them from being grown but the European Commission has reviewed GMO studies and overseen more than 200 studies and concluded that GMOs are as safe or safer than conventional and organic and conventional foods. Need to get your facts correct. Politicians have overridden science recommendations to initiative restrictions but the major science bodies in every European country has endorse their safety.

          • pew pew laser beams

            don´t spread lies, they are banned in most eu countries I´m european btw, the majority of europeans scientists agree that gmos are not safe, the only ones that say its safe are payed by monsanto and bayer surprise surprise, secondly euro politicians are aren’t allowed to get money from corporations like it happens on america, so they don´t have a hidden agenda to please monsanto or the koch brothers, I don´t know any politician in favour or gmos all the politicians in my country are against patenting food, water and human genes which is monsanto is doing.

            I dont even know if its worth my time replying since this site is clearly a propaganda tool, have a good day and good luck spreading the misinformation,

          • Jon Entine

            You are not correct. No EU country bans GMOs. Not one. You can buy foods with GMOs in every country in Europe. What is your evidence that “the majority of European scientists agree that GMOs are not safe”? The European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority, the Academies of France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and every other EC member has released a statement endorsing the safety of GMOs. The World Health Organization based in Switzerland has issued a statement endorsing the safety of GMOs. More than 100+ global independent science organizations have issued statements endorsing the safety of GMOs. NOT ONE independent (non ideological) country or global agency has warned of potential health hazards. Who cares about politicians? Many politicians believe in creationism or that vaccines are harmful or that the global warming is a fiction. I’ll stick to science and empirical evidence. You just make statements and repeat them, but provide zero links to scientific studies or independent science organizations. There are literally thousands of articles on the GLP site with links to independent research and independent agencies. Try science some times. It’s a hard swallow for some, but it’s liberating.

          • pew pew laser beams

            we know you get a check for spreading lies, and you pretend to know better about my european country then me thats laughable. I´m a small farmer, you can´t find any gmo seeds, plants or whatever in any supplier, you can get them with a permit only if you are doing scientific studies with it , 2nd you won´t find any single food in the supermarket with gmos, I know for a fact that imported grain not long ago from us that was found to have gmos, was turned down. anyway I cba to reply more to you, its obs you have an agenda, eat your gmo vegetables everyday, specially those with animals genes inserted on plants those are the best and have a nice day.

      • Michael Moulds

        12 Thousand dead pigs in the Yangtze River, 20 thousand dead sheep in Japan. You don’t care if your lettuce has DDT in it. As long as it’s crisp.

        • Jon Entine

          Please provide links to documented evidence by independent agencies or studies (not NGO claims) of pigs or sheep deaths that can be definitively linked to DDT use.

          • pew pew laser beams

            DDT, agent orange, gmos are all perfectly safe, because monsanto said so.