The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has apparently imposed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial introduction of genetically modified (GM) eggplant, or brinjal, while the agency considers the recommendations of its Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). In announcing the decision, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh cited negative public reactions to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) brinjal, as well as the objections of state governments, unknown safety and environmental issues, and concerns about foreign influence in the domestic agricultural market. Ramesh has also called for the creation of an independent genetic engineering regulator and further research to examine “the chronic effects of Bt brinjal on human health.” As he stated in his remarks, the ministry has adopted “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach” to Bt brinjal that “does not, in any way, mean conditional acceptance.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups have reportedly welcomed the ban, which GM Watch has hailed as “a groundbreaking victory for citizens, farmers, NGOs, and independent scientists.” But Indian scientists have warned that the moratorium could set back indigenous efforts to develop other GM crops. “We have no less than 10 GM products to get into the regulatory system for trials—including brinjal, chickpea, sorghum, sugar cane, castor, rice and potato—that took 15 years to develop and a lot of money,” a project director with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was quoted as saying. “All scientists associated with these projects are disillusioned.” See BBC News, The Hindu Times and Nature, February 9, 2010; GM Weekly Watch Newsletter, February 11, 2010.

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