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Minister Acts Responsibly
Jane O'Meara Western Gazette, 25 February 2010
On January 30th more than 100,000 Indians in 64 different cities across 14 states in the country fasted for 24 hours, protesting against the introduction into Indian markets of Monsanto's Bt brinjal (aubergine) which would be India's first GM food crop.

Some might say their actions mock the image biotech companies are desperate to project, of third world people starving as a result of Western reluctance to accept GM crops.

January 30th was also the 62nd anniversary of the death of Mahatma Ghandi. At this time they recall his philosophies, values and dreams about a self-reliant and independent India.

Consumers, scientists, medical communities, public servants, and even government agencies joined in this year's historic memorial.

The Kerala government even called upon their people to join the fast. VS Vijayan, chairman of the State Biodiversity Board, said that introducing genetically modified food would not alleviate poverty. Nor would it reduce pesticide use.

Although control of a pest by genetic modification may initially reduce damage, attacks by other pests often necessitate increased use of pesticides.

The cost of GM crops was higher with supplies being dependent on foreign monopolies.

The country had more that 200 traditional varieties that could potentially be contaminated by Bt brinjal.

On Feb 9 the Indian Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh, announced a moratorium on Bt brinjal until "independent scientific studies establish to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals the safety of the product from the point of view of its long term impact on human health and the environment."

He made his decision despite the fact that the GM variety had been given "approval" by the country's biotechnology regulator, in October last year.

The minister said that his main concerns were based on science. He claimed there were deficiencies in the supporting dossiers submitted by Monsanto when it applied for commercial consent. Others pointed to the many conflicts of interest within the Indian regulatory body, a very common problem with GM regulation.

It is good to see another minister acting responsibly by joining the growing courageous group of fellow ministers respecting scientific doubt. They're going against the often vested interests of advisory committees, and the pressure from the GM industry, in stopping these deeply flawed GM projects.

[Jane O'Mearais a board director for GM Freeze and a spokesperson for the GM Free Dorset campaign, a position sponsored by local businesses]