The Co-Chairman of the High-Power Genetic Engineering Appeals Committee (GEAC) Arjula R. Reddy on Tuesday said that China has taken one major step forward in the production of Bt rice varieties by becoming the first country to give Bio Safety Approval (BSA) for the development of Bt rice varieties.

Prof. Reddy, a scientist in genetics, said that in a year or two China would be out with disease-and-insect-resistant Bt varieties of rice which would considerably reduce the cost of cultivation and increase productivity.

He said that in India several companies and research and development institutes were in the process of conducting various tests of Bt rice traits in different laboratories. However, so far, no company has come before the GEAC seeking BSA for Bt rice. “India would be left behind in the race if research and development activities in Bt rice variety is delayed any further,” he said.

Prof. Reddy said that the GEAC has given BSA to Bt brinjal after subjecting it to a rigorous regimen of laboratory and field trials. Setting at rest all apprehensions of environmentalists and nature lovers about Bt brinjal, Prof. Reddy said that Bt Brinjal is safe in all respects and was not harmful for consumption.

Talking to The Hindu here, Prof. Reddy said that 52 transgenic varieties of vegetables, foodgrains and other plants were under test in research and development centres and higher centres of learning. They included jute, maize, musk melon, mustard, onion, papaya, pearl millet, chick pea, pigeon pea, ragi, golden rice, cabbage and cauliflower.

Prof. Reddy said that Bt rice was in the “active pipeline” of research and development activities in laboratories and it [the variety] will take another two or three years to come before the GEAC for BSA.

“With China giving BSA, companies and research laboratories involved in laboratory trials of Bt rice will now hasten research activities to come before the GEAC for BSA for Bt rice,” he said.

He said that India now occupied the fourth position in the world in cultivating Bt crops with 7.2 million hectares of land under Bt cotton. Andhra Pradesh, which occupied the second position in the country in Bt cotton cultivation after Gujarat, has Bt cotton in 82 per cent of the total cotton area. “If Bt cotton is not safe why farmers would accept the crop and take up its cultivation in more area?” he asked.