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Bt brinjal moratorium stays, but time frame needs to be set

Gargi Parsai

Speak with one voice, PM tells warring colleagues

NEW DELHI: The moratorium imposed on the commercial release of Bt brinjal stays, but “within a time frame” that would have to be determined.

This was decided at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to address the issues raised by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on the moratorium imposed by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh earlier this month on the release of Bt brinjal. Union Ministers Kapil Sibal and Prithviraj Chavan were present.

Appealing to his warring colleagues to “speak with one voice” on the issue of biotechnology in food security and genetically modified (GM) crops including Bt brinjal, Dr. Singh appeared to back the moratorium decision but emphasised that the process could not be open-ended, adding a time frame would have to be set.

It was clarified that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, would remain the body to address “concerns for resolving all scientific issues relating to Bt brinjal including safety aspects.”

Create confidence

The meeting agreed that steps must be taken to create confidence amongst States about the role of biotechnology in food security, against the background of 10 States rejecting Bt brinjal.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said: “It was agreed that biotechnology is an important option for higher agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. At the same time, we must ensure that it has no adverse effects on human and animal health and bio-diversity.

“Keeping this in mind, the government will soon be moving forward in setting up a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority which will inspire confidence and stimulate public and private investment in biotechnology.”

Sources said Mr. Ramesh wanted the Authority set up under his Ministry and not under the Ministry of Science and Technology, as had been proposed.

There was also concern about the control of seeds and the lack of investment in the public sector for research in biotechnology.

But for rice, all GM foods for which the GEAC had given approval for trials did not directly affect food security as was being made out. The crops approved by the GEAC for field trials include cauliflower, tomato, groundnut, cabbage, potato, corn, sorghum, lady’s finger and brinjal.

Earlier this month, Mr. Pawar wrote to the Prime Minister saying the moratorium declared by Mr. Ramesh on the GEAC’s recommendation for commercialisation of Bt brinjal had “confused” the scientific community and the private sector about the status of biotechnology in food security and about the deciding authority.

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