Where: New Delhi, India

February 20, 2010 : India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh had announced that Bt Brinjal, a genetically modified (GM) plant, would be introduced for cultivation across the country. A storm of public protests followed. As a result, the introduction has been put on hold for the time being. On February 9, 2010, the government of India announced that it needs more time to take a final decision.

Bt Brinjal is brinjal modified by the addition of a gene from ‘Bacillus thuringiensis’ (a bacterium). This gene makes the plant resistant to pests. Bt Brinjal was developed by an American company. If it is introduced it will be India’s first GM food crop. Bt Cotton has already been introduced in India.

What is genetic modification? A gene is a unit of heredity that determines the nature of a living thing. When scientists want to create superior or pest resistant varieties of plants, they genetically modify plant seeds. This means certain characteristics are added to the plant. If a plant becomes pest resistant, then there is no need to apply chemical pesticides.

However, farmers in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have proved that they know how to control the pest in brinjal without the use of chemicals. Scientists have been opposing the introduction of Bt Brinjal for health reasons. Studies show that the consumption of such foods could cause problems with growth, organ damage and damage to the immune system. There could also be long term effects on the environment. Then there is the question of whether brinjal really needs to be modified. After all, it is native to India. There is no shortage of brinjal in the country and it is one of the cheapest vegetables to buy.

On February 17, Indian environment minister stressed that the government had imposed a moratorium – that is, a suspension for the time being – and not a total ban. “Until we arrive at a political, scientific and societal consensus, this moratorium will remain,” the minister added.

Read more on genetic modification here.