Field trials for 50 GM crops to be cleared soon

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 7 2014, 06:59am hrs
GM cropsThe GEAC hasn?t met for more than a year in the wake of the ambivalence over whether GM crops should be encouraged. Reuters
In a signal that the stalemate over the policy on genetically modified (GM) crops could end soon with the change of guard at the ministry of environment and forests, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is likely to take a call on over 50 applications for field trials of such crops in the next few weeks.

The GEAC hasnt met for more than a year in the wake of the ambivalence over whether GM crops should be encouraged.

Sources told FE that close to 35 new applications for trials of 11 agricultural crops are pending and another 20 have come up for revalidation with GEAC.

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 arent conducted in the year of approval, and the trials can be conducted only if the state concerned gives a no-objection certificate (NOC).

Of the new applications, 15 relate to rice while seven are for maize varieties. Two applications each belong to cotton, brinjal, potato and mustard, and one each for castor, sugarcane, wheat, sorghum and chickpea. Fifteen revalidation proposals pertain to various varieties of cotton, two each of castor and maize and one of rice and wheat.

Only GM cotton is grown in India on a commercial scale right now.

States like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra have given NOCs for 26 proposals and they will also be considered the GEAC in its next meeting. Overall, there are 81 applications that would be taken up by 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.

Meanwhile, 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 pertaining to a petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues for a direction to ban GM field trials. The case would come up for hearing on April 15.

States like Bihar, Rajasthan and Kerala have opposed the field trial of GM crops and the 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, said N Seetharama, executive director, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises- Agriculture Group (ABLE- AG).

The 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 maintained by his successor Jayanthi Natarajan, which was a reason cited for her ouster from the ministry a fortnight ago.

There is 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 added.

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