India on Tuesday clamped an indefinite moratorium on its first genetically-modified food, Bt brinjal, until “independent” tests prove it is safe. See popup
“There is no over-riding urgency to introduce it,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, tasked with taking a final decision on Bt brinjal’s commercial release in the face of stiff opposition, said.
The government plans to make operational an independent regulatory body and formulate a new protocol for independent tests, as existing tests on Bt brinjal were done only by its developer, Mahyco.
HT had reported on Tuesday that the ministry wanted additional, independent tests.
“I believe the approach is responsible to science and responsive to society,” Ramesh said. However, he clarified, the moratorium applies only to the Mahyco-developed Bt brinjal and not other GM crops under various stages of development.
“We respect the decision,” Mahyco managing director
M.K Sharma told HT. “Historic decision,” said P.M. Bhargava, a well-known molecular biologist opposed to Bt brinjal.
“A moratorium implies rejection of this particular case of release for the time being. We have not banned Bt brinjal,” Ramesh said.
India’s farm policy promotes GM crops due to its precarious food situation, where demand outstrips production.
It allowed the use of GM cotton seeds in 2002 and saw output increase sharply.
A row over Bt brinjal erupted when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, India's biotech regulator, cleared it on October 14, 2009. Many scientists, environmentalists and opposition parties opposed the GM food, calling it unsafe and finding fault with its safety tests.
Ramesh called for countrywide public consultations and considered over 1,000 representations from around the world before taking a decision. “I hope the moratorium period will be used to build consensus so we can harness the full potential of GM technology in agriculture in a safe manner.”