The Rubber Board on Thursday confirmed that it had sent a request to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), for clearance to hold limited-scale field trials, on 0.4 hectare each, of Genetically Modified rubber plants in Kerala and Maharashtra, and said it would approach the State governments for consent to conduct the trials as and when the GEAC's clearance came.

The Board defended its research programmes as being essential to protect the interests of Indian cultivators, in the face of considerable progress made by countries such as China, Indonesia and Malaysia in aiding genetic transformation of rubber plants. There was no proposal to cultivate GM rubber on a commercial basis.

However, Kerala's Minister for Agriculture, Mullakkara Ratnakaran, said that any decision by the GEAC to permit field trials of GM rubber would constitute a violation of the rights of the people, the rights of the State and the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

He said he had made this clear in a letter despatched on Thursday to Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. The State should have a say in the matter, Mr. Ratnakaran said. He blamed the Rubber Board and the Rubber Research Institute of India (RRII) for going ahead with such a project without consulting authorities in Kerala, a State that had declared itself GM-free.

Earlier on Thursday, stating that it wanted to “clear any apprehensions the public may have about the matter,” the Rubber Board said the request for field trials was sent following a successful effort in developing GM rubber at the RRII in Kottayam. These plants over-expressed the enzyme MnSOD, which could enable rubber plants to overcome the effects of climate change, especially prolonged drought and tapping panel dryness (TPD). “The laboratory studies… are encouraging. Field trials should be conducted to validate the laboratory findings.”

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