Panel to study report on transgenic brinjal for approval


Bangalore: The genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC) under the environment and forests ministry will meet Wednesday to evaluate the safety and environment data on Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal for commercial release of the transgenic (GM) seed, a senior official said Tuesday.

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“A meeting has been convened Wednesday to discuss the report of the sub-committee and experts’ views on the health safety and environmental issues of Bt brinjal,” GEAC chairman B.S. Parasheera told IANS on telephone.

The GEAC had set up a sub-committee last year to review the safety aspects of the transgenic brinjal seed developed by Mahyco (Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company) in partnership with the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

“Though the meeting on Bt brinjal is scheduled Oct 14, the approval for its environmental release will take sometime as we have to prepare the minutes and submit it to the ministry,” Parasheera said.

If the committee approves, it will be for the first time in the world a GM brinjal will be introduced for growing commercially.

A genetic modification involves altering the DNA of the seed to make it resist the shoot borer insects and enhance its quality.

On the delay in approving the GM seed, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) deputy director-general Swapan Dutta told reporters here that the sub-committee was set up to assess the safety issues of the country’s first GM edible product following objections raised by the health ministry and several NGOs, including Greenpeace.

“The approval also got delayed by over two years due to a stay granted by the Supreme Court on public interest litigation (PIL) against the Bt brinjal seed. The sub-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 All India Crop Biotechnology Association said that about 40 GM food crops, including banana, cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn, groundnut, mustard, onion papaya, potato and tomato were at various research stages for developing their transgenic seeds that 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 or more per hectare,” Shantaram pointed out.