New Delhi: India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is likely to propose an extended test to determine the safety of genetically modified (GM) brinjal, said a person associated with the apex body to clear GM crops.
The test involves feeding rats with Bt brinjal, a GM variety, for 180 days, compared with the current 90 days. This is likely to extend the period of evaluation for safety by a year.
“That’s the only practical study that can be conducted that can give an extra insight into the safety and toxicity of Bt brinjal,” the person said on condition of anonymity.
Scientists typically conduct tests on rats to determine the toxicological impact of a product over several generations of rodents. Rats are a favourite for tests because they provide a good analogy of the human physiology, reproduce quickly and are relatively easy to procure.
Raising concern: Environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
The extended test assumes significance in light of environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s decision on 9 February to impose an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal.
Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co. Ltd, which wants permission for the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal, said in a statement after the moratorium that it would follow all prescribed rules.
“Such a test would certainly be advisable,” said Arjula Reddy, chairman of Yogi Vemanna University and co-chairperson of GEAC. “However, private as well as public sector companies should be clearly told that these tests are final.”
The committee’s 14 October ruling that Bt Brinjal was safe for human consumption was overruled by Ramesh.
Ramesh’s decision irked science minister Prithviraj Chavan and farm minister Sharad Pawar and moved Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call a meeting on 24 February to work out a compromise.
“Bt brinjal and genetically modified rice will take two and three years, respectively, to reach the GEAC for evaluation,” said a person familiar with the proceedings of the meeting, who declined to be identified. “What everybody agreed on was a specific time to determine the safety of genetically modified crops.”
India in 2001 allowed the commercial cultivation of Bt cotton. Ramesh, however, said the two instances were different as brinjal is a food crop.
“Tests and trials for food products must be more stringent than drugs, but this has not been the case for Bt brinjal,” he said.
The use of Bt cotton in India has increased yield from 308kg per ha in 2001 to 508kg per ha in 2006, according to state-owned Cotton Corp. of India Ltd which helps in selling the commodity.