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Moratorium on Bt Brinjal


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Moratorium on Bt Brinjal: A Review of The Order of The Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of India

- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, India; pbtkrao@gmail.com

Full text of the review  at http://www.whybiotech.com/resources/thirdpartystudies.asp

"Scientist C. Kameswara Rao reviews the document released by the Minister of Environment and Forests of the Government of India that declares a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal (eggplant) in India. Through a scientific review process Dr. Rao points out the bias and lack of scientific reason in the moratorium document, and then provides real evidence that supports the safety and efficacy of Bt brinjal."

Summary: On February 9, 2010, the Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, following a seven-city public consultation process, put on hold the October 14, 2009 recommendation of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercial release of Bt brinjal, and declared a moratorium of an unspecified period on Bt brinjal. The moratorium document (MD) has a text of 19 pages in 31 paragraphs, containing the opinions and responses of the MoEF to the consultation process, and selected submissions, from various interest groups, which constituted the four Annexures of 532 pages, all posted on the Ministry’s website at www.moef.nic.in.  The Annexures contain a) a report on the seven consultation meetings (Annexure I), b) letters from Chief Ministers of States (Annexure II), c) submissions by Scientists in India (Annexure IIIA) and abroad (Annexure IIIB) and d) submissions by interested individuals and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) (Annexure IV). The GEAC and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) did not get an opportunity to present their stand at the public consultation meetings.

To facilitate more people to know the arguments of the MoEF in support of his decision, the MD is reviewed here in pointed reference to the material in the Annexures.  Part A of this review is an analysis of text of the order, supported by references to scientific literature, and Part B is a summary of the Annexures II to IV.  Annexure I is not reviewed here as a hard copy is published.  

The MoEF stated that the GEAC is a statutory body authorized to grant approval for environmental release of genetically modified organisms, yet seized the opportunity presented to him by the GEAC by putting up its recommendation for commercial release of Bt brinjal to the government, for a final decision.  Notwithstanding his assurance that the moratorium applies only to Bt brinjal, and to no other genetically engineered (GE) crops under development, the moratorium created a regulatory uncertainty.  No research and development of GE crops is possible without the shadow cast by the moratorium.  There are already second thoughts on some transgenic vegetable projects that are in advanced stages.  No investor, Indian or foreign, feels secure in pursuing even the existing projects, let alone starting new ones. With bleak prospects of employment caused by the slump, education and training in GE crop technology will also suffer.  

Of the 28 States and seven Union Territories in the Indian Union, only nine have actually opposed the release of Bt brinjal ‘at this point of time’ and four conveyed no decision and the stand of the rest of the States is unknown.  

Yet, the MoEF claimed that all States who responded to his letter have expressed apprehension and the Media erroneously reported that all the States have rejected Bt brinjal.  
Ignoring the vast scientific evidence, the MoEF gave credence to activist claims that a) Bt brinjal may contain unknown toxins, b) India is the country of origin of brinjal and brinjal is a largely self pollinated crop, and hence gene flow from Bt brinjal would lead to the loss of currently available diversity of brinjal in India, and c) as there is a lot of uncertainty and doubt about the safety of Bt brinjal, the ‘Precautionary Principle’ makes the moratorium imperative.  
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The MoEF’s Bt brinjal exercise has obfuscated the entire issue and created a new breed of experts.  With emotion riding a rough shod over scientific reason, decision making has been further politicized.  The moratorium may have gladdened those who claim to represent the public, but threatens the deployment of a safe technology aimed to benefit the public.  The critical science based activity of biosecurity evaluation of GE crops is now replaced by the whims of the politicians and professional protestors on the street.  The MoEF supported the alarmist and paranoid activism that imagines demons where there are none.  At this rate, the nation will not be able to derive the full benefit of modern agricultural biotechnology for a very long time to come.  
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