India's Scientific Leadership Endorses GM Eggplant

NEW DELHI—Six institutions representing India's top scientists (three academies of science and the academies of agriculture, engineering, and medicine) have given their joint and unanimous backing for a controversial plan to grow a genetically modified variety of eggplant called Bt brinjal. The plan, designed to produce a plant resistant to insect attack, ran into stiff resistance in an acrimonious public consultation earlier this year. A week later, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh imposed an indefinite moratorium on the release and cultivation of Bt brinjal.

Ramesh subsequently asked for advice from India's top scientific institutions. Their statement says:

The overwhelming view is that the available evidence has shown, adequately and beyond reasonable doubt, that Bt brinjal is safe for human consumption and that its environmental effects are negligible. It is appropriate now to release Bt brinjal for cultivation in specific farmers' fields in identified states.

The authors of the report also say that if Bt brinjal is released to the environment, the plants should be strictly monitored, adding that "GM crops are not a panacea, but they should be an important component of India's agriculture strategy."

This statement represents the first time that all six Indian science academies have worked together on a single issue, says Mamannamama Vijayan, a biophysicist and president of the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi. The report signed by six presidents of Indian academies "carries enormous clout," he says, adding that the moratorium may be lifted soon.