Activists oppose commercial farming of Bt brinjal

      Social activists staged a mass demonstration here opposing the introduction and commercial farming of genetically modified (GM) crops like the Bt brinjal in the country. The protest comes after the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the biotechnology regulator, approved the commercialisation of genetically modified Bt brinjal on Wednesday. Sanjay Kaul, president of the People's Action, a social activist group, said that there were different varieties of brinjal in India and introduction of the modified version wasn't necessary at this stage for a nation whose economy is primarily agriculture-based. "I don't understand why the government is so worried about introducing modified brinjal? There has been a controversy on cash crops like Bt cotton. So it would have been sensible for the government to solve that issue first and then enter into edible foods. We believe that this introduction is neither going to benefit the Indian farmers nor the consumers," said Kaul. India allowed commercial cultivation of Bt cotton in 2002, sparking protests from activists who contended that genetically altered crops are a health hazard, spoil soil texture and above all, harm the environment. Dasbir Chaddha, convenor of the United Residents Joint Action Group, another voluntary forum, said that GM vegetables would be an environmental disaster and cause diseases, which would be hazardous. Chaddha also said that the government has acted in haste and that there is a need for extensive testing prior to endorsing cultivation of GM crops. "Our plea is very simple that please test this crop. Let it be proved beyond any doubt that they are safe and then introduce it," said Chaddha. The vegetable consumed by the masses will be the first genetically altered food crop to be commercially launched in India, which has so far permitted commercial cultivation of only one genetically engineered crop -- bacillus thuringiensis or Bt cotton. Bt brinjal is a transgenic vegetable, which carries a gene called 'Bt' from a bacterium, which releases toxin to kill fruit and shoot borer insects.

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