The morning after announcing the moratorium on Bt brinjal, a visibly relaxed environment minister Jairam Ramesh spoke to Outlook. Excerpts:
A rethink on GM in agriculture: The moratorium has nothing to do with the future of GM technology in agriculture, which is a decision that has been taken at the highest level. GM is an important element, but not the only route to food security. So we are not abandoning GM in agriculture.
Addressing multiple concerns: In such matters you cannot rely only on the scientists. Science does not function in a social or political vacuum. There are political questions involved. There are social and health issues involved. So I don’t think you can take a pure scientific view on such matters. Concerns arose largely because in hybrids you have to buy seeds year after year. Also, because of the Monsanto connection, there was wide public fear which would not have been the same had the public sector developed the varieties.
Private versus public players: No, I am not asking for differential standards because the same health yardsticks would apply to both. The public sector Bt could be as toxic as a private sector Bt. I think farmer confidence would be enhanced if he did not have to buy new seeds year after year.
Liability for violations: There’s a big question, as we do not have liability laws. Take contamination, for example. We don’t have liability laws to deal with it. I hope we will use this moratorium period to discuss these issues and put in place rules and regulations.
BT brinjal and food security: It would appear that BT technology is a solution in search of a problem. I think it should be the other way round. If I had been in-charge from day one, the first question I would have asked is, “Why Bt Brinjal?” It does not seem right to me. There is no great shortage of brinjal. There is no overriding food security issue. But I couldn’t raise those issues as 7-8 years have already passed since work on Bt brinjal started.
Biodiversity concerns: Diversity is a very important issue for brinjal, as India is its centre of origin. Madhav Gadgil and M.S. Swaminathan have spent decades studying biodiversity. It is not a narrow bioengineering view that we have to take but a holistic view on conservation of biodiversity.