The Centre on Friday informed the Supreme Court that the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) seeking a 10-year moratorium on field trials on Genetically Modified (GM) crops will be highly detrimental and will not be in national interest.

“Based on current overall status of food safety evaluation of Bt. Transgenics, including the data on Bt. Cotton and Bt. Brinjal examined by the TEC, and in accordance with the precautionary principle, the TEC recommends a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt. Transgenics in all food crops,” the TEC said in its interim report submitted to the Supreme Court. “Another factor is the possibility of contamination of non-GM food by GM food.”

Growing demand

Appearing for the Centre, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati contended that field trials should be allowed to go on as the demand for food for the growing population could be met only through the GM crops. Counsel for various parties also opposed the recommendations.

Taking note of the objections against the report, a Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and S.J. Mukhopadaya refused to stay the field trials and directed that all the objections be placed before the TEC for fresh consideration and asked the committee to submit its report in six weeks.

The Bench was hearing a petition filed by Aruna Rodrigues for a direction to ban such field trials. The committee was constituted by the court to give its recommendations to the government.

Cascading impact

The Centre said adoption of the interim recommendations would bring to a halt the process of testing/assessment of the safety of GM crops. It said: “ Ten years of moratorium on GM crop trials will be a blow to Indian science as it would put the country 20 years back in scientific research in comparison to fast growing economies who are developing GM crops like Brazil, China and others. This will have several cascading implications. The country will fail to attract scientific talent from the younger generations in the absence of opportunity.”

The Centre said: “Indian farmers and the Indian economy as a whole will be the highest loser by stalling the research and development in the area of GM technology because eventually India will be forced to import technology by paying a much higher price.”

Safety assurance

Dispelling the apprehensions, the Centre said: “Recognising that safety assessment of a GM crop is the most important step, rules and procedures as per scientifically validated international norms have been put in place for each stage of research and development.” Bearing in mind the far-reaching implications on food security of the country and the pressing requirement of continuation of the ongoing research on application of GM technology in improving agriculture productivity and production, the Centre sought rejection of the TEC recommendations and a direction to continue the trials under strict monitoring and as per internationally accepted norms.

In its application, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds company ((MAHYCO) said: “The TEC report is scientifically flawed, in conflict with years of empirical experience both in India and around the world, and presents manufactured theories of risks while promulgating misconceptions.”

“Baseless theories”

It said: “Field trials have been conducted since 1986 safely using guidance developed internationally and in country where field trials have been conducted, there is not one confirmed case of adverse environmental impact to the environment resulting from the release of a GM crop; India has a regulatory system with published guidance and information requirements that is harmonised with other global systems; arguments about threats to mega diversity and crops whose centre of diversification in India are inaccurate and theories of novel allergens and toxins have no basis in biological fact or experience in breeding crops for over a century.”

The TEC had ignored the overwhelming body of knowledge and literature on GM safety, it said and sought rejection of the report.

The Bench directed the matter to be listed for further hearing after six weeks.