Plagiarized Report Presents New Hurdle to GM Eggplant in India

NEW DELHI—In an embarrassing revelation, a landmark report from India's six science academies backing commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) brinjal, or eggplant, has been found to contain materials plagiarized from a pro-GM newsletter.

The plagiarism apparently was confined to a section reviewing the history of GM brinjal. "The main recommendations would remain unaffected by the detected glitch," Mamannamama Vijayan, president of the Indian National Science Academy here, said in a statement today. GM critics, however, have pounced on the fiasco to cast doubt on the report's conclusions. "The country should sit up and take notice as to who we should be trusting," says Kavitha Kuruganti, an anti-GM food campaigner with Kheti Virasat Mission in Jaitu, Punjab.

The report was commissioned by India environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who earlier this year had imposed an indefinite moratorium on the release of brinjal engineered to make the Bt toxin that helps the plant resist insect pests. In a first for India, all six scientific academies—three science academies and the agriculture, engineering, and medical academies—collaborated on the report. Released on 24 September, the report concluded:

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.

A day later, however, an advocacy group called The Coalition for GM Free India released a statement charging that the report had lifted at least six paragraphs in the 25-page report almost verbatim from a December 2009 article by P. Ananda Kumar, director of the National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology here, in a pro-GM newsletter Biotech News. In a statement issued today, Vijayan vowed that the academies will eliminate the plagiarized material and issue a revised report.

But the damage has already been done. Ramesh says the report "lacks scientific rigor" and has vowed not to lift the moratorium "anytime soon."

"We are devastated. What has happened is unfortunate and should not have happened," Vijayan told Science. "It is a very serious issue," adds C. N. R. Rao, chair of the Science Advisory Council to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a chemist at the Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore. "What has happened does not augur well for Indian science."