Not just Centre, states dont want GM crops either

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 31 2014, 06:50am hrs
The Narendra Modi governments decision to disallow field trials of 15 varieties of genetically modified (GM) crops came on top of several state governments virtually thwarting such trials of 45 GM crop varieties approved by the regulator during the previous UPA regime.

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) gave approval for 45 GM crop trials ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. However, states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala refrained from giving no-objection certificates, which are mandatory.

The GM crops cleared by the GEAC for field trials include rice, wheat, maize, chickpeas and cotton varieties. The approvals in these cases were given during March-May 2014, when M Veerappa Moily was the environment minister.

The trials are continuing only in a few states Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

On Tuesday, environment minister Prakash Javadekar, after a meeting with Sangh organisations, said a decision was yet to taken on field trials of the 15 varieties of GM crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal.

The companies investing in the research and development of GM crops have termed the move, amounting to putting on hold trials indefinitely as anti-science and said it would delay the use of biotechnology in the agriculture sector.

Tuesdays development added to the uncertainty over the fate of 70 new applications for the GM field trials pending before the GEAC.

The governments decision will demoralise scientists working in the field of bio-technology and push Indias GM crop research by many years. While taking into account the science and scientific facts, we expect the government to make an informed decision prior to putting any restriction on R&D of GM crops, Ram Kaundinya, chairman, Association of Biotech Led Enterprise (ABLE) Agriculture Group told FE.

GM technologies can control pests and reduce insecticide usage, help farmers in managing weeds and also save crops from drought, flood, heat, cold, disease or viruses.

Meanwhile, senior scientists with Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) have said the field trials would commence in states that have provided the NOC. Following the NOC, we follow scientific validation process in the trials for ensuring that the concern crop is suitable fore the region, KV Prabhu, Deputy director, IARI said.

Since the introduction of BT cotton in 2002, no food crop has been introduced for commercial cultivation.

Since the introduction of BT cotton, the countrys annual output has increased from 13.7 million bale (one bale is 170 kg) in 2002-3 to 36.5 million bale in in 2013-14, a huge jump of 166%.

The environment ministry led by Jairam Ramesh, in February 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. This was the first GM food crop to be approved for commercial cultivation after going through rigorous field trials.

Subsequently, the environment ministry had changed the name of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee following the imposition of the moratorium on Bt brinjal. His stance against GM crops was followed by his successor Jayanthi Natarajan.

Journey so far

2010 (Feb): Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh bans Bt brinjal cultivation

2011 (July): His successor Jayanthi Natarajan continues with the ban

2012 (Aug): Agriculture Standing Committee wants ban on GM crop field trials

2013 (Mar): GEAC approves field trials of 50 crops which Nataranjan does not OK

2013 (Dec): M Veerapa Moily takes charge of environment ministry

2014 (MarMay ): Clears 45 trials but none start as state governments dont OK them

2014 (July): 15 more applications for field trials approved by GEAC. Decision put on hold by environment minister Prakash Javadekar. 70 more applications for field trials are still pending

Most of the applications for GM trials belong to crops such as rice, wheat, brinjal, peas, potato, okra, rice, watermelon, maize, groundnut, papaya, mustard and sorghum