New Delhi: India’s biotech regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has sought information about Bt brinjal, a genetically modified crop from Bangladesh, where farmers have been growing the crop since 2013.

This comes in the wake of an application by the seed company Mahyco seeking approval for commercial release of Bt brinjal in India.

The latest development follows a meeting of GEAC, on 20 September, where the committee noted that Bangladesh had approved the “same Mahyco’s Bt Brinjal technology in 2013" and 50,000 farmers in the country are growing the vegetable this year.

The committee noted that the Indian government had put a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt Brinjal in 2010 and asked the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to “obtain relevant information and data on the post commercial release effects of Bt brinjal... from Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute". The committee also directed ICAR to undertake such studies in Bangladesh and also asked Mahyco to furnish independent scientific studies on the Bangladesh experience.

In 2009, GEAC had said that Bt brinjal is safe for environmental release and asked the government to take a final call.

Then environment minister Jairam Ramesh, however, decided to put a moratorium on its release in 2010 by adopting “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach". Ramesh had said the moratorium will continue till scientific studies establish “the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment".

“As Bt brinjal was developed and found safe for use in India, the latest decision by GEAC shows India’s regulatory and political incompetence and the declining trust in its scientific and research community," said a biotech expert asking not to be named.

“Bangladesh will laugh at India over this decision and will continue to advance other products under their regulatory pipeline, including golden rice, late blight resistant potato and Bt cotton," the person quoted above said.

However, Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of advocacy group Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, which is opposed to the introduction of GM technology in Indian agriculture, said “It is shocking that GEAC is asking the ICAR to undertake independent scientific study on post release effect of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, when the applicant (Mahyco) has put in an application for permission for large scale environmental release of Bt brinjal in India."

“The moratorium decision was clearly based on concerns related to bio-safety. Where are the independent long term scientific studies that were supposed to have been undertaken here?" Kuruganti asked.

India is yet to approve any GM technology in food crops, including GM mustard developed by the Delhi University. In 2002, India had approved Bt cotton, the only non-food GM crop which is grown in the country.

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