No to Bt Brinjal, for now
New Delhi, February 9
“It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary and principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till the time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both public and professionals, the safety of the product from point of view of long-term impact on human health and environment,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said here today.
Ramesh said there was no overriding urgency to introduce Bt Brinjal, especially when the public sentiment was negative. “I will not impose a decision till such time independent scientific studies established safety of the product on human health,” he said.
While Ramesh chose to term the moratorium as an independent decision, the fact remains that there was intense opposition from within and outside the government on the commercial cultivation of the genetically modified version of the vegetable.
“I have followed a democratic, often acrimonious process. My conscience is clear. The aim is to establish trust,” Ramesh stressed. He said he took the decision after holding consultations with eminent scientists, including noted agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan.
However, he added the decision was focused on Bt Brinjal alone and did not concern the larger issue of genetic engineering and biotechnology in agriculture. The current issue, he said, was limited to what to do with the GEAC recommendation on the commercialisation of Bt Brinjal, also making it clear that it applied only to Bt Brinjal variety being developed by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and Dharwar-based University of Agriculture Science and did not cover future of genetically modified crops, be it lady’s finger, cabbage or rice.
Ramesh agreed it was a difficult decision considering he had to balance many issues of science and society and producer and consumer. He said he responded both to science and society and followed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech in the Indian Science Congress last month and now wanted the issue to be discussed in Parliament and the National Development Council in detail.
The decision comes after a series of public consultations in seven cities across the country that largely saw protests from the anti-Bt Brinjal lobby. A number of states had opposed the introduction of Bt Brinjal.
The Environment Ministry had appointed a Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to regulate research, testing and commercial release of genetically modified crops, foods and organisms.
The GEAC, which cleared Bt Brinjal for commercial release in October, said it would reduce farmers’ dependence on pesticides and enable higher yields. It announced approval for large-scale field trials for Bt Brinjal in September 2007 with the possibility of commercialisation by 2009. It also cleared proposals for bio-safety studies for other food crops such as lady’s finger, rice, and tomatoes.
The point of view was supported by Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Director-General Samir Brahmachari and Department of Biotechnology Secretary MK Bhan, among others. They said Bt Brinjal was safe for human consumption. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was also in favour of Bt Brinjal.