India refused to grant permission Wednesday for the commercial cultivation of its first genetically modified (GM) food crop, citing problems of public trust and “inadequate” science.
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said he was imposing a moratorium on the introduction of an aubergine modified with a gene toxic to pests that regularly devastate crops across India.
“It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary, principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release,” until scientific tests can guarantee the safety of the product, said Ramesh.
However, he added there was still no agreement among scientists on what constitutes “an adequate protocol of tests”.
Ramesh said the moratorium was effective immediately and it would last “for as long as it is needed to establish public trust and confidence.”
“I cannot go against science but in this case science is inadequate,” he added. “I have to be sensitive to public concerns.”
Indian regulators had approved the new aubergine back in October and its introduction would have made it the first GM foodstuff to be grown in India.
But the decision roused huge opposition and a broad spectrum of voices, including farmers, environmentalists and politicians of all stripes had urged the government to prevent its cultivation.
Ramesh spent the months since the decision travelling across the country holding public consultations with citizens.
Backers of the genetically modified aubergine said the product would boost yields by up to 50 percent, while reducing dependence on pesticides.
But critics pointed to possible long-term health problems, and warned it would open the doors to a flood of other GM food crops.
Mathura Rai, the Indian scientist who led the group that came up with the modified aubergine, declined to comment directly on the moratorium, but insisted that GM crops had a crucial role to play.
“We need a technology for increasing the quality production of vegetable crops,” Rai, head of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, told AFP from his headquarters in Varanasi city.
“In certain areas where traditional methods of breeding is not possible to improve the production or productivity, biotechnology can play a vital role,” he said.
“So this is the best option for increasing the production of quality aubergine in the country,” he added.
The government’s decision on Tuesday came at a sensitive time with growing public frustration over soaring food prices, following a particularly poor 2009 monsoon.
But Ramesh said there was “no overriding food security argument” for the introduction of GM aubergines.
He said he had considered the views of different interest groups in making his decision but denied he had been pressured by members of his cabinet or by companies producing genetically modified crops.
“My conscience is clear. This is my decision and my decision alone,” he said.
India is one of the largest aubergine producers globally.
The seeds had been developed by local scientists but would have been marketed by an Indian company partly owned by the US multinational Monsanto.
India already allows the use of genetically modified cotton and supporters say it has sharply improved yields.
Indicted Giuliani henchmen tried to broker Ukrainian gas deal at Trump’s DC hotel: report
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who were indicted on election fraud charges earlier this year, reportedly tried to broker a major deal with the CEO of Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company at President Donald Trump's flagship hotel in Washington D.C.
Vice reports that the two men pitched Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev on a deal to export natural gas from the United States to Ukraine at the Trump International Hotel in Washington shortly after former American ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was recalled after being targeted with a smear campaign.
Jimmy Kimmel’s Christmas skit causes self-appointed Catholic spokesperson to have unhinged meltdown
This Tuesday, late night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel ran a skit featuring a “charming nativity scene in Attleboro, Massachusetts,” where he got a surprise visit from his “foul-mouthed little friend 2-year-old Tommy Brady Fitzpatrick and his beautiful mother Darlene.”
But the skit didn't go over so well with Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who railed against the segment in a post to his website.
"On last night’s Jimmy Kimmel show on ABC, they did a skit about the nativity scene where they crossed the line," Donohue wrote. "Referring to the Shroud of Turin, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, as 'the shroud of urine,' is needlessly offensive."
Watchdog report offers enemies a ‘roadmap’ of US sources and methods: Ex-intel officials
The Justice Department's inspector general report contains few redactions, and intelligence veterans worry that could allow hostile spies to examine U.S. sources and methods for gathering secret information.
President Donald Trump gave Attorney General William Barr broad authority on declassifying information, and he apparently kept a light hand in blacking out portions of the 476-page report examining the origins of the Russia probe, reported Politico.