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India Refuses Permission for First Genetically Modified Food Crop

India has refused to allow commercial cultivation of its first genetically modified food crop citing lack of sufficient evidence about its safety. The decision was announced following a heated controversy over what would have been the world's first genetically modified vegetable.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said Tuesday that the government is not going ahead with the cultivation of the genetically modified eggplant because there is no clear consensus on whether it is safe for human consumption.

He says the government will wait for more scientific studies of the genetically modified eggplant, known as BT brinjal in India.

"When there is so much opposition from state governments, when responsible civil society organizations and eminent scientists have raised many serious questions that have not been answered satisfactorily, when the public sentiment is negative, and when BT brinjal will be the very first genetically modified vegetable to be introduced anywhere in the world and when there is no overriding urgency to introduce it here, it is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach, and impose a moratorium on the release of BT brinjal," said Miknister Ramesh.

The eggplant is called brinjal in India and is a popular vegetable. But it is prone to attack by a pest which reduces yields.

The genetically modified brinjal has undergone field trials since 2008, and was approved last year by India's genetic engineering approval committee.

But an outcry by environmentalists, left wing politicians and several state governments over its approval led the minister to hold a series of public meetings in recent weeks.

Minister Ramesh says the moratorium on BT brinjal will be in place until tests are carried out to everyone's satisfaction. "This has been a difficult decision to take because I had to balance many interests. I had to balance science and society, I had to balance producer and consumer," he said.

Supporters of the genetically modified brinjal say it can boost yields by up to 50 percent and reduce dependence on pesticides. But detractors worry that it could pose a health hazard. They are also concerned that the hybrid brinjal would open the door for other genetically modified food crops.

Advocates of genetically modified crops say they can boost food supplies substantially, but opponents say they can be a hazard for the environment and health.

The genetically modified eggplant was to be marketed by Mahyco, an Indian partner of the American company Monsanto.

India allowed the cultivation of genetically modified seeds for cotton in 2002.