Bt Brinjal to be studied for its medicinal and nutritional qualities
A government committee has decided to test Bt brinjal for its medicinal and nutritional qualities while moving a step ahead on allowing commercial release of India's first genetically modified food crop.delhi Updated: May 22, 2011 21:04 IST
A government committee has decided to test Bt brinjal for its medicinal and nutritional qualities while moving a step ahead on allowing commercial release of India's first genetically modified food crop.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India's bio-tech regulator, has decided that the Hyderabad-based National Institute for Nutrition will conduct the study with the help of the health ministry and its findings will be important for reaching the final decision.
The ministry's department of Ayurvedic, Unani and Medicinal Plant Board had expressed concern regarding the likely impact of Genetically Modified (GM) brinjal on traditional Indian medicines, where brinjal is used for treating neurological and musculoskeletal disorders.
Brinjal - grown mostly in eastern states, including Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar - is a source of vitamins A, C and minerals and white brinjal is said to be good for diabetic patients. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had also expressed apprehensions over Bt Brinjal's impact on traditional medicine while imposing a moratorium on commercial release of Bt Brinjal in January 2010.
To overcome these doubts, the health ministry officials suggested a "compositional comparative analysis" of both traditional brinjal and Bt brinjal to ascertain any alteration, which the GEAC accepted.
That was the only issue of consensus at the GEAC meeting to decide the future of Bt brinjal. Most of the 16 biotechnology experts wanted Bt brinjal's limited release under strict monitoring but PM Bhargava, founder of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), opposed the move.
"Once the Bt seeds are released the damage to the environment is done," Bhargava said, while seeking 39 additional bio-safety tests on the GM crop before its commercial release. Other experts termed his additional tests as "utopian protocols" which cannot be accepted in Indian conditions. Hence, no decision on Bt Brinjal's limited release could be taken.
Another issue of dissent was whether India wants GM food crops or not. "Many experts were of the view that the government should give a clear cut direction on whether GM food is required or not for the country," the minutes of the meeting said, adding that if the perception is not clear it will affect the ongoing research. Others said it was not an issue of discussion.
To strike a balance between differing voices, the GEAC chairperson MF Farooqui invoked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech of January 2010, where the PM wanted India to pursue biotechnology to sustain its food safety but not without answering all questions on safety.
The GEAC also asked all expert members to submit their suggestions on the way forward and additional studies needed for Bt Brinjal can be commercially released, while making it clear that the final decision on Bt Brinjal will take time.