In the wake of strong views in favour and against allowing the commercial cultivation of genetically modified Bt brinjal, the government on Thursday sought to take a middle path by putting the report on public domain for wider consultation.

The objective was to arrive at a “careful, considered decision in the public and national interest.”

Minister of State (Independent charge) Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh said the final decision would be taken only after the consultation process is complete and all stakeholders are satisfied that they have been heard.

The report of the Expert Committee that formed the basis of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) decision of October 14 has been put on public domain for seeking comments until December 31.

During January and February 2010, the Minister proposes to have a series of consultations in different places with scientists, agriculture experts, farmers’ organisations, consumer groups and non-governmental organisations. All points of view will be represented in these consultations, Mr. Ramesh said.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has said that the government should not clear any genetically modified food crop till the time India has strict provisions for labelling.

Bt brinjal will be one of the few crops which are used for human consumption directly and not processed or used in other foods.

“Clearance of such a crop 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 whether they want to consume genetically modified food or not. Till the time this is done, regulators should not clear edible GM crops,” said CSE director Sunita Narain.

This is critical and even more so as other genetically modified food crops are on the anvil for clearance. 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 available.

The country’s eminent food scientists agree that testing for GM in food is not easy or cheap. If this is the case, then it becomes even more important for us to be cautious in clearing an edible crop, which then cannot be tested easily to check if it is GM or not, the CSE said.