ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Threat to Health and Environment

manufacturing sectors like automobiles and refineries should evade emission cuts based on the backwardness of India

It looks like the recommendation, on 14 October, of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to the government to grant approval for the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Bt brinjal would pave the way for the first GM food crop to be grown in India. And this, despite the fact that the report on the bio-safety of Bt brinjal submitted by Mahyco-Monsanto was flawed and the expert committee set up to examine that report did a poor job. Why was the GEAC, the regulator, in such haste to approve Bt brinjal? When the very paradigm of testing for biosafety is controversial, shouldn’t the members who backed the approval of Bt brinjal have been more cautious? We say this b ecause the risks to human and animal health and safety and the environment are grave.

Brinjal – a member of the plant family called Solanaceae that includes tomato, chilly, potato, tobacco, and so on – was genetically engineered by Monsanto to produce a toxin that protects it against a particular pest. But the key to the product, Bt brinjal, that involved this artificial manipulation of genetic material is its testing as a food for bio-safety. The prevailing paradigm for such examination is centred on the concept of “substantial equivalence”. Basically, the overall composition of the GM Bt brinjal had to be compared with ordinary brinjal, and if it was found that there is no substantial difference between the two, then the former would be deemed to be safe. It needs to however be stressed that the paradigm of “substantial equivalence” is a highly contested one among molecular biologists.

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