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No decision on Bt Brinjal release before Feb
Published on 15 Oct. 2009 10:34 PM IST
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A series of consultations will be made before taking any decision on the release of Bt Brinjal in India, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here Thursday. The minister’s statement came a day after the government’s biotech regulator approved the commercialisation of the genetically modified crop, leading to protests by environmental and farmers’ groups. “During January and February 2010, I propose to have a series of consultations in different places with scientists, agriculture experts, farmers’ organisations, consumer groups and NGOs” on the subject of releasing Bt Brinjal,” Ramesh said. “The decision will be made only after the consultations process is complete and all stakeholders are satisfied that they have been heard to their satisfaction.” Now that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has given its nod, the environment ministry has to decide if Bt Brinjal will be allowed for commercial use. Ramesh said the GEAC decision was based on the recommendation of an expert committee, and the committee’s report was being made public immediately on the environment ministry’s website. The ministry is seeking comments from the public on the report. Comments can be made till the end of the year. Ramesh’s statement came on the day Minister of State for Agriculture K.V. Thomas said his ministry would not “blindly oppose” the introduction of Bt Brinjal. “Agriculture production will have to be increased once parliament passes the Food Security Act. So the government will have to rely on modern scientific methods to increase food production. We will not blindly oppose the introduction of Bt Brinjal,” Thomas told IANS. “It will be going through an effective study and research. We will examine it and later come out with our view on it,” Thomas said. Civil society groups and NGOs, however, have strongly condemned the regulator’s clearance. Global environmental activist group Greenpeace expressed its shock and said GEAC had “mindlessly” given its clearance when informed scientists and citizens have raised serious concerns on the nature of the safety studies. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said: “Clearance of Bt Brinjal requires the authorities to practise extreme caution. Currently in India there is no labelling regime for genetically modified foods which will give consumers a choice to make a decision whether they want to consume genetically modified food or not. Till the time this is done, regulators should not clear edible GM crops.” Labelling of GM food requires “a strengthened laboratory and regulatory framework. Currently in India it is not possible to check the GM content in our food and this analysis, if done, is rarely made public,” CSE director Sunita Narain pointed out. Green activists have maintained that all research on GM crops in India is funded by companies like Mahyco and Monsanto and then presented to the regulators for clearance. “It is not surprising then that there is an enormous lack of credibility in the scientific integrity of this research. It is important that research done on our food is in the public domain and so is publicly funded,” Narain emphasised. Farmers’ group the All-India Kisan Sabha said there is the threat of all future seeds and therefore Indian agriculture coming under the control of global multinational companies and the charging of exorbitant prices from farmers in the country. The monopoly of multinational companies like Monsanto over the seeds is another major concern, as seeds are no longer in the public domain since they are now the “intellectual property” of these multinationals, the Sabha said in a statement. Bt Brinjal is a transgenic brinjal created out of inserting a gene (Cry 1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into brinjal. This is said to give the brinjal plant resistance against insects like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer (Leucinodes orbonalis) and Fruit Borer (Helicoverpa armigera). Bt Brinjal is being developed in India by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco), a subsidiary of the multinational Monsanto.

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