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Ministers bicker over Bt brinjal

Differences within the government have escalated the debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, specifically Bt brinjal. Zia Haq reports.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2010 01:04 IST
Zia Haq

Differences within the government have escalated the debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, specifically Bt brinjal.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, biotech regulator, cleared Bt brinjal on October 14, 2009 for commercial use. But Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has voiced concerns that the committee’s safety tests were flawed. Crop in Controversy

Countering him and defending the regulator are his cabinet colleagues — Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

On Wednesday, Pawar reportedly said the committee’s decision was final. On Thursday, Ramesh, whose ministry is tasked with briefing the prime minister for a political decision, hit back at Pawar in a letter: “I completely disagree with this view, if the newspaper reports have quoted you accurately. The GEAC may well be a statutory body but when crucial issues of human safety are concerned, the government has every right… to take the final decision.”

On Tuesday, Chavan had said he stood by the committee’s findings. Ramesh said he’d take a decision by February 20.

“The GEAC itself wants the government to take the final decision. So, Pawar and Chavan’s statements undermine the democratic process in deciding on Bt brinjal,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-free India.

A GM crop/food is one whose genetic material is altered through biotechnology to enhance its nutrient value or make it more pest-resistant.

If approved, Bt brinjal will be the first GM food to be introduced in India.