Panel to study report on Bt brinjal for approval


Bangalore: The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) will meet Thursday in New Delhi to evaluate the safety and environment data on Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal for commercialisation of the genetically modified (GM) seed, a senior official said Tuesday.

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“The regulatory body (GEAC) is meeting on October 15 in New Delhi to study the safety aspect of transgenic brinjal for large-scale commercialisation of its seed developed by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co),” Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) deputy director-general Swapan Dutta told reporters here.

Acknowledging the delay in approving the seed, Dutta said the ministry had set up a review committee on genetic modification to assess the safety and health aspects of the country’s first GM edible product following objections raised by the health ministry and several non-government organisations, such as Greenpeace.

“The approval has also been delayed by over two years due to a stay granted by the Supreme Court on public interest litigation against the Bt brinjal seed. The review committee has studied the safety and health aspects of the GM seed and submitted the report to GEAC for approval,” Dutta said on the margins of a workshop on food security.

The Jalna-based Mahyco, which applied in 2006 for government clearance to produce the Bt brinjal seeds, had conducted further field trials on the direction of the review committee to ascertain the safety of the GM vegetable.

According to Mahyco joint director (research) Usha Barwale Zehr, the company had completed the studies and submitted the reports along with the application for commercial release again in 2008.

“The trials have proved that Bt brinjal is absolutely safe,” the company said in its report to the review committee.

The biotechnology industry body, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, said about 40 GM food crops, including rice, tomato, papaya, and kanola were under various research stages and would be subjected to field trials for approval later.

“About 90 percent of biotech crop farmers in developing countries are enjoying multiple benefits of biotechnology in terms of higher yields and productivity, insecticide savings and greater peace of mind,” Princeton University senior research scholar Shantu Shantaram said at the day-long workshop on agro-innovations.

For instance, Bt cotton, the only biotech crop technology approved for cultivation, helped India become the world’s second largest producer and exporter of cotton by doubling the productivity within seven years of its introduction.

“It is noteworthy that there was a 150-fold increase in Bt cotton from 2002 to 2008. Growers increased their income by up to Rs.10,000 ($250) or more per hectare,” Shantaram pointed out.