GEAC to study Bt brinjal afresh; move could take years

At its first meeting after environment minister Jairam Ramesh declared a moratorium on Bt brinjal, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the top technical body to decide on the use of genetically modified food products, met on Wednesday to draw up a fresh blueprint for testing genetically modified crops.

M F Farooqui, additional secretary in the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), who is also chairman of the GEAC, said new studies would be conducted in appropriate laboratories. These would be under the direction of scientists who would follow the "appropriate regulatory control based on strict scientific criteria". An independent testing laboratory for genetically modified foods, as suggested by Ramesh, would be set up.

Mr Farooqui denied that the meeting was stormy though some members did feel that it was inappropriate for them to be invited to discuss details of a new protocol on Bt brinjal when they had already given their clearance to the earlier safety tests.

Farooqui insisted that since Bt brinjal since it was meant for "human consumption, all safety issues needed to be cleared before its commercial release". Most observers agreed that the process could set back the introduction of the seed by many years – it could take five years to set up the new laboratory alone.

The GEAC will be expected to study all the material it has received by different scientists and institutes. Dr Swaminathan, a member of the GEAC, has written demanding that the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources collect, catalogue and conserve all the variable varieties of brinjal available in the country.

He has also demanded that the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad and the Central Food Technology Research Institute, Mysore, conduct a study on the effects of Bt brinjal on human health. This is analogous to the studies carried out on the impact of tobacco on human health.