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Tags: eggplant | India | genetics | modified

India Argues Over Genetically-Modified Eggplants

Monday, 08 February 2010 10:13 PM EST

A fierce row over the future of the humble aubergine, staple ingredient of fiery brinjal curries for tens of millions of Indians, will reach a climax on Wednesday with a key government decision on the possible future commercial cultivation of genetically-modified strains of the plant. If permission is given, the aubergine will become the first GM foodstuff to be grown in India.

The decision will be taken by the environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who pledged last year to end the heated argument over whether aubergines modified with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis should be distributed to Indian farmers.

An alliance of voices ranging from environmentalists to leftwing politicians and Hindu extremists have called on Ramesh to deny permission for the commercial cultivation of the Bt Brinjal strain, named after the bacteria and the local word for aubergine.

"It will open the gate," said Leo Saldanha, an environmental campaigner in the southern city of Bengalooru. "It raises huge legal and cultural issues."

The decision Ramesh takes will reveal how far "India was willing to allow the farmer to be subordinated to corporate interests", he said.

Ramesh told one of the many rowdy meetings he has attended as part of a public consultation exercise that trying to reconcile the opposing camps had "turned [his] hair grey".

Aubergine is a major crop in India, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Though not native it is seen as an integral part of culture and diet, particularly of the poor.

Backers claim the modified aubergines would cut crop losses due to insect damage by more than half and drastically reduce pesticide use. They argue also that extensive animal testing has shown that the bacterium introduced into the aubergine, though toxic to boring insects, would not be harmful to humans.

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Monday, 08 February 2010 10:13 PM
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