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In a move that took the nation by surprise, Indian Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, announced a moratorium on the commercialization of Bt-Brinjal. He did this almost a day ahead of schedule and managed to leave everyone amazed at the speed with which the decision was made. Coming in the wake of heated and emotional debates with farmers, scientists, environmental groups and various other stake-holders, held across India, the decision has come as a huge relief for marginal farmers who would have borne the brunt of this technology to the hilt. Also, I personally consider this to be a victory of activists like Dr.Vandana Shiva, who have been battling the skewed policies of Monsanto for years now. The furore created by the current food-crop has been instrumental in making the government listen to sane voices instead of simply pushing an invalidated and potentially dangerous technology down our throats. So I guess it is a victory for democracy as well. This debate has taught us many important lessons, and I think this is a good opportunity to learn from them and to enable ourselves to build a strong, unbiased and scientifically irrefutable system for regulating the entry of new technology in this country.

Jairam Ramesh

Jairam Ramesh

In a hurried press conference on Tuesday night, Mr. Ramesh, announced the moratorium on Bt-Brinjal, which has been marketed in India by Mahyco-Monsanto. The moratorium will last “till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country,” said Ramesh. He further went on to say, “If you need long term toxicity tests, then you must do it, no matter how long it takes… There is no hurry. There is no overriding urgency or food security argument for [release of] Bt brinjal. Our objective is to restore public confidence and trust in the Bt brinjal product. If it cannot be done, so be it.” He made an important point as far as seed security and biodiversity are concerned, saying, “I don’t believe India should be dependent on the private sector seed industry, I believe seeds are as strategic to India as space and nuclear issues.”

Dr M S Swaminathan

Dr M S Swaminathan

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Bt- MagicIn a significant move, the Ministry of Agriculture in China has granted safety certificates to three genetically modified crop plants;two strains of GM rice and one strain of GM maize. This green signal will enable the commencement of small-scale field trials of these crops in China. This is interesting to those who have been following the intense debate raging over the GEAC’s approval to Bt  Brinjal in India. Though these approvals are only to start field trials and the actual cultivation of GM crops in China is still a far-cry, it will be interesting to see whether this move will have an impact in Asia as a whole with respect to GM technology. The two rice strains have been engineered to carry pest-resistant genes and the maize strain carries a gene that will improve phosphate digestion in animals resulting in better growth and reduction of Phosphate pollution. The former has been developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, and the latter by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The approval had been granted in the month of August but it has become public only lately after recieving local media attention.

The move has drawn criticism from Greenpeace and other environmental groups that are strongly opposed to the use of GM technology. This also happens to be the first time that such a certificate has been granted to a staple food in China. The chair of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Clive James, wrote in Crop Biotech Update that this is a move that will have a huge impact in Asia. Deeming the move as Global Leadership, he has envisaged an increase in adoption of feed crops as well as food crops in the region as other countries could be expected to follow China. Once again this reminds us that there are relatively few GM crops in the world that are produced for direct human consumption.

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