India’s environment minister nods for GM crop trials

India’s environment minister nods for GM crop trials

India’s environment minister give nods for GM crop trials
Our Bureau
New Delhi, Mar 7:

Environment minister Veerappa Moily recently approved the March 2013 decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which evaluates GM crop,  to allow more than 200 successful gene modification trials for rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton, among others.

The reason behind piling up of applications for field trials is that for more than a year the GEAC, under the ministry of environment, which is responsible for giving these clearances has not met. Besides new applications for trials, the ministry has also approved a few for ‘revalidation’ with the committee.

Under the revalidation process, which became operational from June last year, the centre decided that field-trial approvals granted at the federal level would remain valid for subsequent years, even if they aren’t conducted in the year of approval and the trials can be conducted only if the state concerned gives the no-objection certificate (NOC).
The Association of Biotech Led Enterprises- Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) has welcomed removal of the restrictions on the previously approved field trials of GM crops by Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

“A lot of applications are pending because the GEAC has not met for close to two years. Moreover, it was reconstituted last year. We want that the trials should go on irrespective of the fact if they are accepted or denied. Of the new applications, six have come in the last month itself,” said a senior environment ministry official and member of GEAC said.

In fact, the environment ministry which is in favour of continuation of research on GM crops, is preparing an affidavit along with the department of biotechnology and agriculture ministry which will be filed in the Supreme Court.

The apex court is hearing a case pertains to a petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues for a direction to ban GM field trials. The case would come up for hearing on March 21.

States like Bihar, Rajasthan and Kerala have opposed the field trial of GM crops and Madhya Pradesh government too had sent a letter to the Centre voicing its concerns.

“In the short run all field trials must be allowed without any delay as this will ensure that the process of science through Research & Development is not hindered,” N Seetharama, Executive Director, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises- Agriculture Group (ABLE- AG) said.

Meanwhile thirty five agricultural scientists mostly associated with Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), an arm of agriculture ministry has mooted continuation of field trial of Genetic Modified Crops (GM) under their guidance without getting No-Objections Certification (NOC) from respective states governments.

“Agriculture is a state subject and state agricultural universities and agriculture department of respective states must involve themselves in the field trials for GM crops without losing time. NOC from the state government is not required as these products will not get to farmers or consumers,” KV Prabhu, Deputy Director (Research), Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a premier institution under ICAR said.

The group of scientists under the chairmanship of M S Swaminathan have also suggested that after bio-safety clearance by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which operates under the environment ministry, ICAR should play a key role in the commercial release of the GM crops to prevent undue proliferation of large number of hybrid varieties.

The then environment ministry led by Jairam Ramesh, in 2010, had imposed a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal-the transgenic brinjal hybrid developed by Mahyco, a subsidiary of global seed giant Monsanto. His stance against GM crops was followed by his successor Jayanthi Natarajan- which was a reason cited for her ouster from the ministry a fortnight ago.

“There was an urgency for the GEAC to meet because it is acting as a deterrent for seed companies who want to conduct field trials,” the official noted.

In 2012, the parliamentary committee on agriculture had criticised the GEAC, which gave the approval for the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal on the basis of its ‘own assessement’ in 2009.

The BT cotton was the first GM crop to be commercially cultivated in the country since 2002.

Bt brinjal was the first and maize is the second food crop for which the GEAC had given permission for field trials.

Bt brinjal is a genetically-modified vegetable which is infused with Cry1Ac gene from bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) to make the plant resistant to certain pests.