Veerappa Moily okays GM crop trials for rice, wheat, cotton, more

Besides new applications for trials, the ministry has also approved a few for ‘revalidation’ with the committee.

With M Veerappa Moily at the helm of affairs at the environment ministry, the makers of genetically modified (GM) seeds have a reason to cheer with the minister having approved the March 2013 decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of his ministry 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 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).

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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.

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 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 added.

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.

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First published on: 28-02-2014 at 14:01 IST