“Let studies establish the safety of the crop”
NEW DELHI: Bt brinjal will not make it to your dinner table for now. On Tuesday, the Environment Ministry announced its decision to impose a moratorium on the release of the transgenic brinjal hybrid developed by Mahyco, a subsidiary of global seed giant Monsanto.
The moratorium will last “till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country,” said Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
The Minister’s decision comes after a month of public consultations in seven cities, which were attended by approximately 8,000 people. They were organised after widespread protests against the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s (GEAC) recommendation of approval of Bt brinjal in October 2009.
Mr. Ramesh attributed the decision to several factors: lack of clear consensus among the scientific community; opposition from 10 State governments, especially from the major brinjal-producing States; questions raised about the safety and testing process; lack of an independent biotechnology regulatory authority; negative public sentiment and fears among consumers and lack of a global precedent.
“My decision is both responsible to science and responsive to society,” he said adding he did not come under pressure from any quarter in arriving at the decision.
Mr. Ramesh said the moratorium period would be used to commission fresh scientific studies and reform the testing process. “If you need long term toxicity tests, then you must do it, no matter how long it takes… There is no hurry. There is no overriding urgency or food security argument for [release of] Bt brinjal,” he said. “Our objective is to restore public confidence and trust in the Bt brinjal product. If it cannot be done, so be it.”
The moratorium period should also be used to operationalise an independent regulatory authority and hold a parliamentary debate on private investment in agricultural biotechnology.
“I don’t believe India should be dependent on the private sector seed industry,” said Mr. Ramesh. “I believe seeds are as strategic to India as space and nuclear issues.”
Bt brinjal, created by inserting a gene from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis – hence the Bt – is capable of resisting several insect pests and could reduce the use of pesticide.