Brinjal may become the first genetically modified (GM) vegetable to find its way to India’s farms and markets.
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, the country’s biotechnology regulator, is considering Bt brinjal for “environmental release” — a move that will take it very close to commercial farming.
If approved, it will introduce a GM food to Indians for the first time. It will also be the first GM brinjal to be approved anywhere in the world. In India, BT cotton is the only commercially approved biotech crop.
GM crops are those in which genetic material (DNA) is altered for some perceived advantage either to the producer or the consumer. Bt Brinjal has been tweaked to resist a pest called shoot borer.
The Committee will on October 14 go through the report of an expert panel while considering the proposal for environmental release.
“Agronomic” trials for Bt brinjal — field tests to check its effectiveness against pests, as claimed by its developer Mahyco — were carried out in 11 sites. “It was found effective,” Mathura Rai, director, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, told HT.
“Usually, an environmental release means open-air trials. But in the case of BT brinjal, it can only mean commercial release as all large-scale field trials are over,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Anti-GM groups have opposed the move, claiming that other pest control options are still available. They have also questioned the credibility of the expert panel, as some of its members were involved in the testing.
The expert panel was set up after a French study — which HT reported in January — termed BT brinjal unsafe.
In India, a biotech firm applies for commercial release to the GEAC, which sends the GM crop to independent and government bodies for safety trials, as required under Indian biotech rules.