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GEAC nod to commercial release of Bt brinjal

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IANS

Last Updated: October 14, 2009, 18:22 IST

GEAC nod to commercial release of Bt brinjal

Bt brinjal still needs the Government's nod before its release in the market.

New Delhi: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the biotechnology regulator, on Wednesday approved the commercialisation of genetically modified Bt brinjal.

Bt brinjal still needs the Government's nod before its release in the market. If it gets the nod, Bt brinjal will be the first genetically modified food in India.

Members of the committee, which met in the Capital, said the genetically modified crop had the potential to increase yields by a significant extent.

But opposing the GEAC decision, farmers' union the All India Kisan Sabha said, "There are many unresolved issues surrounding the environmental release of the transgenic vegetable as well as genuine concerns expressed over its safety for human consumption. There is also the added threat of all future seeds and therefore Indian agriculture coming under the control of global MNCs and the charging of extortionate prices from Indian farmers."

The introduction of the genetically modified brinjal is part of an USAID programme called Agri-Biotechnology Support Programme (ABSP) under which the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi; University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore are working with Monsanto and Mahyco.

In a statement, the Sabha said, "It has been pointed out that some of the 'experts' in the GEAC have conflicts of interest. Certain experts on the committee are reported to have expressed strong objections which were however not taken into account.

"If the GEAC carries forward the environmental release of Bt brinjal floodgates will be opened for nearly 60 genetically modified food crops in India, some of which are already in the pipeline like rice, corn, okra etc."

It pointed out that the European Union has banned genetically modified food crops.

Demanding that more studies be carried out before Bt brinjal is introduced and that the decision making process of the GEAC be more transparent, Sabha President S Ramachandran Pillai and General Secretary K Varadha Rajan said in their joint statement, "Concerns regarding the health and environmental risks associated with GM crops are too serious to be disregarded. The seed monopolies that threaten Indian agriculture and farmers' livelihoods should also be reined in."


WHAT ARE GM CROPS

bullet Genetically modified crops are those in which a synthesised gene from bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis, or Bt, is inserted.

bulletThis gene has the code for certain proteins that are toxic to some insects.

bulletSo the Bt gene makes GM crops resistant to some insects.

bulletBt cotton, Bt corn, and Bt potatoes are being grown in the US, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, France and Spain.



PROS AND CONS OF GM CROPS

bullet GM crops are resistant to some insects, thus bringing down use of pesticides. Then, genetically modified seeds believed to give a higher yield though that claim is being contested. But several reasons why we should be wary of GM crops. Such plants could produce highly toxic chemicals that cause cancer and Parkinson's disease. And Bt brinjal known to produce a protein in the vegetable cells that induce antibiotic resistance. This is seen as a major health problem. Rats fed with Bt brinjal had diarrhoea and a decrease in liver weight, and liver to body weight. Also, Bt brinjal appears to have 15 per cent less calories than normal brinjal. Farmers actually end up using a cocktail of pesticides as secondary pests increase on GM crops.











"We hope the team can be given more time, that a decision should be deferred. The report that is now confidential but should be put out for public scrutiny. "
— Scientist and Supreme Court nominee in the GEAC, Dr Pushpa Bhargava to CNN-IBN










first published:October 14, 2009, 18:22 IST
last updated:October 14, 2009, 18:22 IST