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Bt Brinjal Controversy Divides India

As the Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh is expected to announce tomorrow a decision on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal, India is divided on the issue with scientists, politicians and environmental activists taking differing views on the matter, reports say.

Bt Brinjal is a trans-genic variety developed by inserting a gene (Cry 1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt) into brinjal.

While a section supports it as it gives the plant resistance against insects like brinjal fruit and shoot borer, another section is opposed to it raising concern about the impact of a possible cross-pollination between Bt and ordinary brinjal and the consequences there upon.

They also fear about the long-term impact on human health in the absence of long-term trials on the new variety. The government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) cleared Bt Brinjal for commercial release in October last claiming that it would result in lower usage of pesticides and higher yields.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had backed commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal pointing out that the GEAC had approved it for human consumption. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has to give a final nod on the issue.

Ramesh had held a series of public meetings on the issue in different parts of the country. There was stout opposition against Bt brinjal at the meetings held in Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad and Bangalore. However, small groups of farmers tend to support it as it is less dependent on pesticides while giving higher yields.

At last, it is for the state agriculture departments to decide on it even if the Centre gave a green signal for Bt brinjal. Ten states which produce more of brinjal are opposed to its commercial cultivation.

The only genetically-modified crop commercially cultivated in India now is Bt Cotton. It has had mixed reviews, but there is such a large area under its cultivation that India is now the sixth largest country growing genetically-modified crops.

by RTT Staff Writer

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