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Why Is India Shunning Safer Food?

March 4, 2010
The Wall Street Journal’s Asia edition published an opinion piece on March 3 authored by C. Kameswara Rao on the ongoing debate in India over biotech eggplant.  Mr. Rao is the Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education in Bangalore.

Rao writes, “One thing's for sure: The moratorium on genetically modified eggplant wasn't a decision based on science…There's a certain irony that while this week the European Union overcame over a decade of opposition to genetically modified feed, in India public policy is swinging in the other direction.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has re-emphasized the importance of biotechnology in boosting productivity; concern about food security; and the need to establish a national biotechnology regulatory authority. He also called for a government panel, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), to ensure that GMO eggplant has no adverse effects on human and animal health and biodiversity – but didn't set a timetable for the
committee to do so.

Rao says farmers are the ones left in the lurch. They lose 50-70 percent of their annual marketable eggplant yield to two insects – Leucinodes orbonalis and Helicoverpa armigera – which cause severe shoot and fruit damage. The damage inflicted by these pests is carried onto the next crop. The prevalent practice of very high application of synthetic pesticides does not help because the pests live deep inside the stem and fruit tissues. No eggplant variety is resistant to these pests.

“Bt Brinjal is neither toxic nor allergenic and is safe to the nontarget organisms and the environment. In fact, it greatly reduces the cultivation expenses on the use of synthetic pesticides, and thus the risk from synthetic chemicals to the farmers, consumers and the environment. It vastly enhances the marketable yield of healthy vegetables, benefiting millions of farmers and consumers.

“The government's stand has created huge regulatory uncertainties for no valid scientific reason or environmental concern. No innovator can afford to develop any biotech crop with an uncertain approval process that is divorced from science.”