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Genetic Engineering Panel to enforce Bt brinjal ban

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Seed stocks to be registered, testing labs to be set up.

Companies with any seeds of Bt brinjal, the genetically modified version of the vegetable, will have to register the details with the government, to ensure none of it is sowed or otherwise gets into the market.

At its first meeting today after the decision by Union Environment Minister to put on hold its earlier okay to commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal, the apex Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) decided the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) should be asked to store all the seeds.

Experts had voiced concern that in the absence of a liability law, Bt brinjal seeds may find their way into different states for cultivation. Today’s decision would enable GEAC, sources said, to take legal action against companies holding the seeds if any find their way into the market. The meeting today initiated the steps for the mechanism proposed by Ramesh to be set up during the moratorium period. An independent testing laboratory for genetically modified foods, as suggested by Ramesh, will be set up.

A group comprising several senior scientists will discuss the tests that need to be done. Among the names mentioned as likely to be in the group are M S Swaminathan, Pushpa Bhargava, G Padmanabhan, M Viyayan, Keshav Kranthi and Madhav Gadgil.

The next meeting of has been slated towards the end of April. By then, its members would have got a proposal for setting up independent testing laboratories, as well as annexures and details of the report prepared following the public consultations on Bt brinjal, sources said. GEAC would also work out how to integrate the opinions of lay and expert groups into future discussions.

Last week, Ramesh had put on hold the decision to commercialise Bt brinjal, saying long-term safety studies were needed before permission could be given to a genetically modified vegetable. Indicating that this moratorium could be for many years, Ramesh had stated there was “no hurry” and there were ”no food security issues” around brinjal. Senior scientist Pushpa Bhargava had told Business Standard that just setting up an independent testing laboratory would take a minimum of five years.

Many scientists and activists had voiced concerns over the hurried introduction of genetically modified brinjal. They had raised long-term safety concerns, beside apprehension that India could lose the 2,500 varieties of brinjal it currently has. Besides the argument the this technology was not the answer to pest management, as pests develop resistance over time to a toxin introduced through technology.

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