Jairam intervenes after Nitish tells him that he is opposed to such trials

Even as the moratorium on commercialisation of Bt brinjal stands, Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has asked the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to immediately withdraw its permission to Monsanto for field trials of Bt maize in Bihar. Bt brinjal was the first, and maize is the second food crop for which the GEAC has given permission for field trials in India.

Mr. Ramesh's intervention came after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told him personally that he was “opposed” to field trials of Bt maize — a food crop — in Bihar as he was not aware of the risks involved and wanted the GEAC to withdraw its permission.

In a letter to the GEAC chief on March 5, Mr. Ramesh said: “Bihar CM's phone call reinforces my belief that biotech regulation, particularly in the field of agriculture, cannot be a purely scientific enterprise… There are political considerations that will come into play and I use that term in its best people-oriented sense. Regulation in telecom or insurance cannot be equated with regulation in food crop-oriented biotechnology.”

In a significant move, the Minister has asked the GEAC to give a State government at least one month to agree or disagree on field trials for genetically-modified (GM) crops, given the fact that agriculture is a State subject. In fact, ideally, prior approval of the State concerned should be taken before allowing such trials.

The GEAC, in December 2010, gave permission for field trials of BRL-II of Bt corn developed by Monsanto at five locations for rabi 2011 — Bihar (two locations), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh — and at nine locations for kharif 2011 — Bihar (two locations), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Corn is considered an extremely important crop in Bihar.

India accounts for about 3 per cent of world maize production. Bihar accounts for 10 per cent, after Andhra Pradesh (17 per cent), Rajasthan (14 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (12 per cent).

‘Absolutely shocking'

Reacting to the permission given for Bt maize trials, Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, who was awarded Padma Shri this year, said: “This is absolutely shocking, coming as it does under the shadow of the review of Bt brinjal, the first food crop to be introduced in India. It is deceitful.”

Kavita Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture expressed concern that “regulators and the government were not heeding democratic and scientific voices about safety aspects of GM crops.”

Bharatiya Kisan Union general secretary Yudhvir Singh said: “Permission has been given surreptitiously. This is not right. We strongly oppose it. The permission should be withdrawn for all States, not just Bihar.”

Keywords: Bt. MaizeGM foods