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India halts release of GM eggplant


February 9, 2010
By The Canadian Press

Topics

eggplantFebruary
9, 2010, Mumbai, India – India has halted the release of the world’s first
genetically modified eggplant, saying further study needed to be done to
guarantee consumer safety before it could be cultivated in the country.



February
9, 2010, Mumbai, India – India has halted the release of the world’s first
genetically modified eggplant, saying further study needed to be done to
guarantee consumer safety before it could be cultivated in the country.

Environment
Minister Jairam Ramesh said more independent research must be conducted to
ensure the hybrid eggplant was safe for human consumption, after a government
committee approved the commercial release of the genetically modified,
pest-resistant crop in October.

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“It
is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based
approach and impose a moratorium,” he said.

The
moratorium on commercial cultivation will be extended until “such time (as)
independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the
public and professionals, the safety of the product,” he said.

Advocates
of genetically modified crops say they cut down on pesticide use, increase
yields and are the only way to meet the world’s growing food needs.

Detractors
question their safety and say they undermine biodiversity and drive poor
farmers deeper into debt.

The
seeds were developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco), using a
pest-resistance gene, called Bt. It is derived from the Bacillus thuringiensis
bacterium by St. Louis, Missouri-based
Monsanto Co.

Monsanto
owns a 26 per cent stake in Mahyco and the two companies operate a joint
venture to market Bt cotton in India, which is the nation’s only genetically
modified crop now under commercial cultivation.

Monsanto
says Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal – an Indian name for eggplant – is the first
genetically modified eggplant in the world.

Bt
maize, used for animal feed, is grown in 17 countries and imported by 10 more,
and China recently approved a strain of Bt rice for human consumption.

Mahyco
is confident that sound science based on evidence obtained over nine years of
rigorous testing will prevail and the country’s farmers, consumers and farm
labour and the environment will benefit from agriculture biotechnology,”
general manager M.K. Sharma said in a statement.

Many
state officials, farmers, scientists and non-governmental groups think
otherwise.

Ramesh
hosted seven public meetings across the country to debate Bt Brinjal before his
announcement. At times they devolved into heated shouting matches.

Protesters
dressed in bright purple and green eggplant outfits with “Bt Brinjal QUIT
India, Monsanto QUIT India” signs took to the streets.

Leaders
from states that account for at least 60 per cent of eggplant grown in India
said they would ban its cultivation no matter what the central government
decided.

“Why
look for genetically modified food when India has an abundance of different
varieties of food grains and vegetables?” said Trivendra Singh Rawat, the
agriculture minister of Uttarakhand, in northern India.

Uttarakhand
was the first state to declare its intention to ban the crop on Feb. 6. Two
other states, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, soon followed suit.

At
least eight other states have voiced concern.

“The
bacterium is safe in the soil, but when you put the Bt gene in the plant it is
not,” said activist Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, a network of seed banks
and organic producers across 16 states in India.

She
said independent studies done in Europe show that loss of fertility, organ
failure, and lowered immunity can be correlated with GM food.

India’s
moratorium, she added, “will force the government to do independent studies and
put in place stronger safety systems.”

Shiva
said chemicals and genetic modification aren’t the answer to the world’s
growing demand for food. “You can only meet it through biodiverse systems that
are organic,” she said.