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See full size imageBrinjal, the king of vegetables, looks all set to become the first genetically modified (GM) food crop to be allowed in India. This brinjal will look exactly like any other brinjal, except that it will have bacterial genes that will produce chemicals meant to make it pest-resistant.

"Brinjal is one of those vegetables where heavy pesticides are used. By introducing Bt technology in crops where pesticide use is high, the spinoff benefits for soil and water contamination are also there," said B Sesikeran, member, Review Committee on Genetic Modification.

Several consumer groups and anti-GM activists, however, say there is no evidence to show GM crops lead to reduced pesticide use.
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"Going with genetically modified crops, pesticide use cannot be reduced nor will pest damage come down. The classic example for that is cotton itself," said G Ramanjaneyulu, from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

These critics say that there could be serious health risks. The pros and cons must be publicly debated because this is a one-way road and at least 33 genetically modified food crops including rice, okra and potato are in the pipeline, they say.

"There have been recent studies from Russia on GM soya. I take that example because lot of GM soya is coming into India. Those studies show that in pregnant rats fed with GM soya, the offspring had higher mortality rate," said Kavita Kurungati, from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

But genetic foods are not new to the Indian platter, all import restrictions on genetically modified foods were removed in September 2007 itself. What's more, Indians are not even being given a choice on whether we want them or not. There are no labels to allow you to decide whether you want to eat genetically modified food or not.

The Health Ministry officials did not even raise concerns on safety risks at the GEAC meeting. Besides, the Ministry has not managed to put in place a mandatory labeling requirement for all GM foods produced or imported into the country. So the consumer's right to know, right to safety and regulation goes for a full toss.


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