The dust has not settled after India’s decision not to approve its first genetically modified food crop. In fact it has just been kicked up again today, with the prime minister accusing foreign NGO’s of meddling and activists responding that the real meddling is by multinational corporations.
This is much more than a local dust-up. What’s at stake is not just whether Indians will have “Bt brinjal” (genetically modified eggplant) on their plates — it’s how we even make these decisions.
The decision to deny approval of Bt brinjal (at least until further research is done) was made by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. The Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee normally makes these calls, and it voted for approval, but knowing well that India’s first GM food would be a hot potato, it asked Ramesh to decide.
Ramesh organized an unusually open consultation process — much more open than any other decision-making process I have ever seen on GMO’s. He solicited opinions from state governments, scientists, farmer organzations, and Indian NGO’s. He held open forums which were well attended; a lot of them are on Youtube and are pretty interesting viewing (Ramesh often challenges anti-GMO claims).
Ramesh — who was moved to a different cabinet post soon after his decision — has provided a careful explanation of his decision.
But we live in a world where with one click of the mouse you can see Ramesh’s actual report on his decision, and it’s an interesting and important document. Now that the whole decision is being picked apart and spun with headlines and sound bites, it’s a wonderful time to click here and read for yourself.
But I’ll provide a few highlights:
- All state governments that expressed opinions urged extreme caution. One state even asked for a 50-year moratorium;
- There are major unanswered questions about impacts on wild eggplant species (some of which have surprising importance in economy and medicine, the subject of a previous blog);
- The claims that the decision was “anti-science” are hard to reconcile with the report’s reliance on input from top Indian biologists like P. Bhargava and international ecologists like Ellstrand and Snow;
- The release would probably violate the Cartagena Protocol, of which India is a signatory.
There are more points there, all clearly laid out. Decide for yourself.