Academies maintain Bt brinjal is safe

Academies maintain Bt brinjal is safe

New Delhi: Following allegations of plagiarism, top Indian science academies have come out with a new report on Bt brinjal, reiterating their earlier claim that the genetically modified (GM) crop is safe and fit for commercial release.

A coalition of environmental groups had alleged that key parts of an earlier report prepared by the science academies were plagiarized from a pro-GM newsletter of the department of biotechnology, Mint reported on 27 September.

Last week, the academies submitted a modified report, reviewed by Mint, to the environment ministry. Much of its content is unaltered but appended with references and scientific claims attributed to relevant sources.

Like the earlier report, it says that commercial release of Bt brinjal does not pose an environmental threat. However, such crops should be constantly monitored after their release for potential long-term health impact.

Bt brinjal is the first GM crop cleared by India’s regulatory bodies for commercial release. But environment groups say tests conducted on the crop and the clearance given to it are based on flawed science.

The commercial release of Bt brinjal will help clear the way for a variety of GM crops, including rice, potatoes and tomatoes, and boost investments by multinational crop companies.

Last month, M. Vijayan, who heads the Indian National Science Academy, one of the academies involved in writing the Bt brinjal reports, said the plagiarized portion was an “unintended error". The academies had held detailed discussions with a number of experts before releasing the first report, he added.

“It’s an unfortunate mistake and we will rectify this. An updated, properly reference report will be out soon," he had said on the sidelines of a conference. He couldn’t be reached for fresh comment.

Kavitha Kuruganti, an anti-GM activist closely associated with the coalition of environment groups that had opposed the earlier report, said the new report was unscientific as well.

“This is all based on a one-day discussion, and even the people consulted are clearly GM crop promoters. The manner in which the report is prepared is unscientific and we will soon come out with a rejoinder," she said.

In February, environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal’s release until there was widespread scientific consensus on its environmental and biosafety aspects.

Ramesh and Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan asked six of India’s top science academies—Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, Indian National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and The National Academy of Sciences, India—to assess scientific aspects of the crop’s safety.

“The contents of (the) academies’ report were based on scientific facts and this latest report is in line with many other scientific reports and opinions published by other leading scientific establishments of the world," Shanthu Shantharam, executive Director of ABLE-AG, an association of biotech crop developers, said in an emailed statement.

“When scientific reasoning prevails, and when politics and ideology are kept out of science and technology issues, everyone wins. This report is a victory to those who have been maintaining that GM crops are as safe as any other crops in Indian agriculture, and that India’s farmers’ and India’s environment will benefit by adopting GM crops," Shantharam added.