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No Bt brinjal on your plates for now: Govt

Wednesday, 10 February 2010 - 1:02am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

While drawing up a robust set of scientific tests before introduction of genetically modified brinjal into agriculture, the government set no timeframe.

Genetically modified brinjal will not be on your plates. At least not anytime soon.

In the face of mounting opposition from political parties and scientists, the government on Tuesday announced it will not permit commercial use of Bt Brinjal. While drawing up a robust set of scientific tests before introduction of genetically modified brinjal into agriculture, it set no timeframe.

“There is no over-riding urgency to introduce genetically modified brinjal for commercial use in India,’’ said environment minister Jairam Ramesh. He added that there was no clear consensus on the issue within the scientific community. Moreover, serious questions raised by civil society organisations and eminent scientists have not been answered satisfactorily yet. The public sentiment, too, ran against Bt Brinjal.

“Science have been found to be inadequate in this case,” said Ramesh.

BT Brinjal has been in a cloud of controversy ever since the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) gave a go-ahead for its commercial use on October 15 last year. The committee, however, asked the government to take a final call. The environment ministry has organised public consultations at several places in the country since then. It also sought opinion of 50 scientists on the recommendation of the GEAC.

“We will commission a number of studies and GEAC will look into the recommendations of scientists...” 

“It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country,” said Ramesh.

So far 13 state governments have come out in the open against commercial use of Bt Brinjal. The states with the highest share of brinjal crop in the country — West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar— were the first to come out strongly against the genetically tampered crop. Three state governments, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, have already put a ban in place.   

The minister said MS Swaminathan, the architect of India’s Green Revolution, had raised concerns about the chronic toxicity aspect. Since brinjal is consumed regularly in India, there is a need to have independent tests that command credibility and not depend on data provided by the developers themselves. He also stressed on an independent regulatory system to study all aspects of GM technology in agriculture.

Ramesh further said the national bureau of plant genetic resources had found that India’s diversity rich regions were likely to be affected by the introduction of Bt Brinjal due to gene flow. Scientists across the globe have said that genetically modified crop should not be introduced in an area which is an origin place of a crop.  

“The loss of diversity argument cannot be glossed over especially when seen in the light of the experience we had in cotton where Bt Cotton seed has overtaken non-Bt seeds,” the minister said.  
On the question of labeling genetically modified crops before sale, Ramesh said the food and safety and standards authority is now considering the issue of mandatory labeling. “The import of genetically modified products without an accompanying declaration is liable to penal action under the law.”

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