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India says ‘no’ to Bt Brinjal
Published on 9 Feb. 2010 11:47 PM IST
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After weeks of a vocal and divisive debate, India Tuesday came out with a strong ‘no’ to the commercial release of Bt Brinjal, saying there was no clear consensus in the scientific community. Bringing forward by a day a decision that was to be announced Wednesday, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said he took the “precautionary approach” because of sharp divisions among Indian scientists. The momentous decision was received with keen interest because India would have been the first country to introduce the genetically modified food crop. India is the world’s largest brinjal producer. Ramesh told reporters that he was imposing a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till independent scientific studies satisfy both public and professionals “the safety of the product from the point of view of long-term impact on human health and environment”. The minister pointed out that besides green activists and farmers, governments of 11 states which account for most of India’s brinjal output had bitterly opposed Bt Brinjal. At least in two places where he interacted with experts and others, Ramesh lost his cool as activists clashed with him, suggesting that he was for Bt Brinjal. “It has been a difficult decision to take because I have had to balance between science and society, consumers and producers, and centre and states,” he said. “The environmental scientists raised so many questions which were not satisfactorily answered,” Ramesh said, explaining the rationale behind his ministry’s decision. “There was also so much opposition from various states,” he said, adding that the “negative public sentiments” could not be ignored since there was no “overriding urgency to clear Bt Brinjal”. The minister said the moratorium was to the version of Bt Brinjal developed by Maharashtra-based firm Mahyco. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, the University of Agriculture in Dharwad (Karnataka) and two laboratories of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are also developing genetically modified versions of brinjal. Asked about the possibility of spurious Bt Brinjal seeds making their way into India, Ramesh said it was up to state governments to check this. “I hope we don’t see a repeat of Bt Cotton where spurious and illegal Bt Cotton seeds found their way into the market.” The agriculture and science and technology ministries had supported the commercial release of Bt Brinjal after the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had cleared it in October. It was left to the environment ministry to take the final decision. Ramesh said his fiat followed consultations with leading scientists including M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India’s Green Revolution. West Bengal accounts for more brinjal than any other state, and the Left Front government there was one of the 11 that declared its opposition to Bt Brinjal. The supporters of the genetically modified crop have pointed out that it would reduce pesticide use and thus improve yields, while bringing down input costs for farmers. But Ramesh pointed out: “I am in no hurry (to introduce Bt Brinjal. There is no overriding food security argument to Bt Brinjal.” Greenpeace India, which spearheaded the vocal anti-Bt Brinjal campaign, called Ramesh’s decision “a good step towards charting the path for sustainable agriculture and food security for our country”. Orissa Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout told IANS that he was happy the government had taken “cognizance of the widespread opposition to Bt Brinjal in India”.

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