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Scientists Slam Key Study Behind Bt Brinjal Ban

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 Zia Haq, New Delhi , February 12, 2010

A vital study cited by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to justify his decision to disallow the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in India is flawed, claim top European scientists.

While making his announcement on Tuesday, Ramesh had referred to the findings of France-based Caen University professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and his team, which had branded Bt brinjal — India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop — “unsafe”. HT, in December 2008, had been the first to report on Séralini’s study.

India’s decision has sparked a major debate in European academic circles. Experts now claim Séralini was unduly influenced by the renowned international NGO Greenpeace — with its aggressive green agenda — which sponsored the study, and never carried out a peer-reviewed laboratory study on GM crops he called hazardous, including Bt maize and Bt brinjal, its gene or seeds.

The European Food Safety Association, a risk assessment body, last month trashed Séralini’s findings on Monsanto’s MON 863, a variety of Bt maize. “Séralini only gave theoretical comments on publicly available biosafety data on Bt brinjal. He never carried out an independent study. He never had access to the Bt gene of either maize or brinjal,” Marc Van Montagu, inventor of the recombinant DNA technology in plants — on which Bt brinjal is based — told HT from the Belgian university city of Gent.

A number of scientists, including Montagu, are now planning to write to Indian politicians, refuting Séralini claims. “We want Indian politicians and the public to take a decision on sound scientific bases, not influenced by biased information. Neither nature nor human health are effected by BT,” their soon-to-be-released letter says.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh told Hindustan Times he would like Séralini’s paper to be peer-reviewed. “I would welcome a peer review. But Séralini was only one scientist I had quoted,” he said.

However, of the eight foreign scientists cited by the minister, only Séralini’s findings relate to health hazards. “Séralini never did any study on Bt brinjal itself. Bt brinjal seeds were never exported to France. All Séralini did was interpret Bt brinjal safety data in a biased way,” said Arjula Reddy, co-chairman of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee told Hindustan Times from Hyderabad.

Séralini could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.