New Delhi, Feb.9: The Centre has decided against making BT Brinjal the country’s first commercially sold genetically-modified crop. Just yet. It announced a moratorium on the genetically-modified brinjal on Tuesday, saying more studies were needed on the impact of Bt Brinjal on health and environment, before it was released commercially.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced on Tuesday that in view of the negative public sentiment, opposition from states and lack of consensus within scientific community, it was his ’duty to adopt a cautious approach". (Read: Environment Ministry’s report)
He said there was no need for a hasty decision, till an independent group established it was safe for humans. "I will not impose a decision till such time independent scientific studies establish safety of the product from long-term view of human health," Ramesh said at a hastily called press conference that had originally been scheduled for Wednesday.
The minister insisted he was under no pressure, and the decision was his. He said it was a difficult decision to take - he had to balance many issues of science and society and producer and consumer. But he also made it clear that today’s decision applied only to Bt Brinjal and did not cover the future of genetically-modified crops - be it ladyfinger, cabbage or rice.
There has been considerable debate on whether the genetically modified crop is safe for India’s biodiversity and for consumption. (Read - Special report: The Bt Brinjal saga)
Ramesh’s decision came after a series of public consultations in seven cities across the country, that often turned acrimonious. A number of state governments, including Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh, have publicly opposed the introduction of Bt Brinjal.
India grows over 2000 varieties of brinjal, over 500,000 hectares of land for almost 4000 years. But the three states which grow more than 60 per cent of brinjal in India - West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar - are not open to the idea of introducing India’s first GM food crop. (See: Pros and Cons)
Seven other states are uneasy with the idea of GM foods, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In fact Karnataka and Uttarakhand have already banned Bt Brinjal.
"I will not allow the entry of BT Brinjal in my state," Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa said on Monday.
In October 2009, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which was set up to study the viability of GM food crops, gave BT Brinjal the go ahead.
But activists, farmers and scientists protested and the Environment Ministry decided to hold nationwide public consultations on the issue before giving Bt Brinjal the final nod.
The key argument used by those who support BT brinjal is that after several rounds of bio-safety tests, it is safe for human consumption and more importantly, it will boost yields while reducing dependence on pesticides. On average, a brinjal crop undergoes between 50-80 rounds of pesticide spraying.
"The introduction of the BT gene in brinjal is very useful because this makes the crop resistant to the fruit bores which are responsible for huge losses. It also kills the bad insects without compromising on safety," said Dr Anand Kumar, a scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
The companies marketing Genetically Modified breed say that without this technology, world agricultural output will not double by 2050 - something that is an absolute must to deal with food security issues. These concerns could pave the way for India’s decision, as a weak monsoon coupled with inflation has meant the poor have been hit the hardest.
The world is divided over GM food. While the European Union (EU) has banned such crops, in the United States they are consumed by humans once they are processed.