Noted scientist and founder of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, P.M. Bhargava, has called for a moratorium of at least eight years on genetically modified (GM) food products in India.

Inaugurating a national seminar on ‘Bt. Brinjal and Alternatives in Agriculture’ at the Mararikulam Brinjal Festival here on Saturday, Dr. Bhargava said the moratorium period should be used to set up an independent laboratory in the public sector, exclusively for risk assessment of GM products. Only after extensive research at this lab should any GM product be considered for approval as a commercial product in the country, he said.

Lambasting the report based on which the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s (GEAC) Expert Committee II (headed by Arjula R. Reddy) recommended the approval of Bt. Brinjal, Dr. Bhargava said the report was “full of lies and absurdities”. He termed it a “ludicrous document that brought down Indian science in front of the whole world” and one which looked like it was written by the public relations officer of the Mahyco-Monsanto collaboration, the makers of Bt. Brinjal.

“Further, Arjula R. Reddy confided in me that he was under tremendous pressure to clear it. Many tests that should have been done were not done. Those that were done were not done properly. Further, the report is based more on data supplied by Monsanto, a company with an abominable record,” he said.

“The widespread aversion to GM food products also cannot be ignored. A majority in the U.S., the European Union and Japan among others are against it. Even Zamibia and Nigeria have stood up against GM food products. If India still approves Bt. Brinjal, that will be the single, greatest tragedy in the history of independent India,” he said, adding that these points would be conveyed to Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh during the public hearing on Bt. Brinjal at Hyderabad on January 22.

Noted environmental activists Suman Sahai (Gene Campaign), Karnataka State Women’s University vice-chancellor Geetha Bali, Dinesh Abrol of All India People’s Science Network and others also spoke.