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Oct. 16, 2009

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Oct. 16, 2009

Indian regulators approved on Wednesday the introduction of genetically modified aubergines, potentially making them the first transgenic vegetable to be grown on local farms, a top official told AFP.

The much-awaited clearance by the state-run Genetically Engineering Appraisal Committee could lead to production of the vegetable -- known as aubergines, eggplant or brinjals in India -- if approved by the government.

In modified crops or food, the genetic material, or DNA, is altered to benefit either the producer or the consumer. In this case, the aubergine would be resistant to a devastating natural pest known as the shoot borer.

Some 8.7 million tonnes of aubergines are grown on 530,000 hectares (1,309,653 acres) in India, with West Bengal state leading production, according to data made available by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research.

Government scientist Mathura Rai, who pioneered research on the aubergine for four years up until earlier this year, urged the government to grant final clearance.
"We found in a nutshell it resists shoot borer," Rai, director of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, told AFP from his headquarters in Varanasi city.

He said the research centre had received data from private Indian seed producer Mahyco, but had conducted its own research.

Rai said his team of scientists conducted "very extensive" trials at 11 sites across India, including one largescale test, before recommending the genetically modified eggplants to the national regulators.

"Forty percent of current brinjal crop is destroyed by pests and its introduction would mean an immediate gain of 40 percent," Rai said, dismissing protests against GM food by some environmentalists as "unfounded".

Groups opposed to genetically modified food warned the government was moving in haste and that there was a need for extensive testing.

"We believe there are many risks associated with genetically modified brinjals that need to be tested," Sridevi Lakshmikutty of the Coalition for a GM-free India group told Press Trust of India.

"The Committee is relying on data from Mahyco and the data have not been checked by an independent source," Lakshmikutty said.

In 2002, India opened the way for the commercial production of genetically modified cotton, which sparked a storm of protest from environmentalists who argued the move would damage soil quality and change crop patterns.

The rise in yields from this modified type of crop, known locally as BT cotton, spurred the government to encourage its cultivation.
Source: AFP

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