Seed companies and agriculture research institutes can go ahead with scientific field trials of different transgenic varieties of GM crops
which had got clearance from the government’s regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in March last year.
A day after agriculture minister Sharad Pawar spelt out the government’s stand over the contentious issue while pitching for field trials, environment minister M Veerappa Moily
on Thursday gave his go-ahead to the move.
Moily said he had cleared the file as the GEAC’s decision was not bound by the Supreme Court’s moratorium (on field trials) order.
The decision, which had been kept in abeyance by his predecessor Jayanthi Natarajan, will now allow companies and institutions to put more than 200 transgenic varieties of rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton on field trials to check their suitability for commercial production.
Moily emphasized that these companies (both government and private) and research institutions can, however, go for trial only after getting nod from respective state governments.
“If a particular state government does not allow it, these entities will not be able to go for field trial,” environment secretary V Rajagopalan said.
It is learnt that some states like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat do not have any problem in allowing field trials. At present, government allows commercial production of only Bt cotton (transgenic variety of cotton). Though Bt brinjal had passed its field trial, it was not allowed to go for commercial production amid strong protests by civil society groups.
The government has, meanwhile, called the next meeting of GEAC on March 21 to decide other pending applications.
Though the GEAC in its last meeting on March 22 last year had given approval for field trials of these 200—odd varieties of food and non—food crops, the then environment minister had decided to keep it in abeyance until strict regulatory mechanism and bio safety protection regime were put in place in the country.
Both anti— and pro—GM crop groups, meanwhile, crossed swords over Moily’s move to reverse his predecessor’s decision. Reacting over the move, AAP leader and senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the decision was a clear violation of the apex court’s order.
While the Coalition for a GM Free India and Greenpeace condemned the Moily’s action as “unscientific, anti-people and reeking of vested interests”, industry body Association of Biotech Led Enterprises—Agriculture Group (ABLE—AG) welcomed the removal of restrictions on previously approved field trials of genetically modified crops.
“The writing on the wall is clear now. The UPA government is against the interest of the citizens, our farmers and the welfare of the nation. It is hand in glove with the multi—national GM seed industry that stands to gain immensely from the numerous open field trials of GM crops
,” said Rajesh Krishnan, convener, Coalition for a GM Free India.
Greenpeace was equally critical of Moily’s decision. Its campaigner Neha Saigal said, “This proves that the government has turned a blind eye to the growing scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM crops and the massive opposition to GM crops from around the country. The government has clearly chosen corporate interests over the interests of the people.”
ABLE-AG executive director N Seetharama, on the other hand, lauded Moily’s decision. He said, “At a time when agriculture is under severe stress and requires immediate infusion of technology and innovation, we can’t afford to ignore biotechnology which has a proven track record of enhancing crop yields in a safe and sustainable way the world over.”