India says no to Bt brinjal, for now

Friday, February 12, 2010

Placing an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal, which would otherwise have been the first genetically modified food crop in India, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Tuesday said he took the "precautionary approach" as there was no clear consensus on the subject among Indian scientists.

"It is my duty to … impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time that independent scientific studies establish satisfaction of both public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of long-term impact on human health and environment," Ramesh said at a press conference here.

He pointed to the opposition to the genetically modified vegetable from 11 state governments, green activists and farmers during his public hearings over the issue at seven cities around the country.

"The decision is based on information that there is no clear consensus within the scientific community. The environmental scientists raised so many questions which were not satisfactorily answered," Ramesh said.

"There was also so much opposition from various states," he said, adding that the "negative public sentiments" could not be ignored since there is no "overriding urgency to clear Bt Brinjal".

Ramesh clarified that the moratorium in no way implied a "conditional acceptance" of Bt Brinjal.

"I would like to say that this approach (moratorium) is responsible to the scientific community and responsive to the society," he said.

The minister also clarified that the moratorium was to the version of Bt Brinjal being developed by Maharashtra-based firm Mahyco. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, the University of Agriculture in Dharwad (Karnataka) and two laboratories of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are also developing genetically modified versions of brinjal.

Asked about the possibility of spurious Bt Brinjal seeds making their way into the market, Ramesh said it was up to state governments to check this. "I hope we don't see a repeat of Bt Cotton where spurious and illegal Bt Cotton seeds found their way into the market," he said.

The decision on Bt Brinjal was originally scheduled to be announced Wednesday, but the environment minister advanced the declaration by a day. The issue has raised tempers around the country and in political circles. The agriculture and science and technology ministries had supported the commercial release of Bt Brinjal after the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had cleared it last October. It was up to the environment ministry to decide on the matter.

Ramesh said his decision followed consultation with senior scientists including M.S. Swaminathan, the father of India's Green Revolution. "I have spoken to a large number of scientists, but in this case science is inadequate," he said.

India is the world's largest brinjal producer. West Bengal produces more than any other state, and the Left Front government there was one of the 11 that had declared it would not allow commercial release of Bt Brinjal.

Read the whole story: The Economic Times


Don’t hasten introduction of Bt brinjal: M.S. Swaminathan

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The government should not be in hurry to introduce Bt brinjal until fundamental issues were addressed, agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan said here on Saturday.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a consultation on “Effective community management of biodiversity in an era of climate change,” Dr. Swaminathan said: “Every technology has its benefits and risks. But it all depends on our capacity to analyse risks and benefits. We must analyse whether risks are more or benefits are more. There should be an authority to analyse the risks and benefits in a transparent way. Unfortunately, we don’t have an authority like that.”

He added: “In my report in 2004, I had recommended an autonomous statutory body such as a bio-technology regulatory authority which is to be led by eminent professionals and has its own facilities for testing — not only going by the company or by the breeder.”

The authority should have its own facilities to analyse long-term chronic effects and all bio-safety aspects, and the sooner the country had, the better, Dr. Swaminathan said.

The Union government had till date not accepted the report, he added.

“Brinjal is consumed throughout one’s life. It’s a vegetable of very widespread consumption. Therefore what will be the chronic effect? Brinjal, there is so much of variability in the country. Will that variability and the biodiversity be destroyed by growing one or two varieties of brinjal in the place of numerous [varieties]? What happens if the resistance breaks down? We would have then lost our bio-diversity. Are steps being taken?” Dr. Swaminathan said.

He added that genetically modified crops should not be introduced in the biological and agricultural hotspots of the country.

Read the whole story: The Hindu


Indian scientists develop GM tomatoes that stay fresh for 45 days

Researchers at National Institute of Plant Genome Research in New Delhi have developed tomatoes genetically modified to stay fresh for 30 days longer.

Dr. Asis Datta and colleagues found a way to keep tomatoes firm for 45 days, when usually they would start to go soft after 15, reports the Scotsman.

Boffins believe the breakthrough could apply to other fruit - including bananas, mangoes and papaya.

The researchers made the breakthrough after identifying chemicals that make tomatoes go soft. By suppressing two enzymes, known as A-Man and B-Hex, which accumulate at critical stages during ripening, the researchers were able to extend shelf-life by a month.

The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Datta said, “Overall the results demonstrate a substantial improvement in fruit shelf-life.” He emphasized that there were no “ill effects”. “In conclusion the engineering of plants provides a strategy for crop improvement that can be extended to other important fruit crops,” he said.

Read the whole story: The Hindu

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