Many States skip meet on GM crops

Many States had challenged clearance to genetically-modified mustard

The Ministry of Environment and Forests held a meeting on Friday with representatives from several States to discuss impediments to research in genetically modified crops, the manner in which field trials ought to be conducted and choosing appropriate locations in States that can be designated as test-sites.

The move is significant considering that genetically-modified mustard, the first transgenic crop entirely developed by Indian researchers and with public money, has been declared safe for cultivation by a technical committee of India’s apex body that clears GM crop trials. This has also prompted States such as Bihar — an important cultivator of mustard — to challenge GM mustard. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month asking him to overrule clearance to GM mustard.

The letter from the Ministry, which is not public, invited States noting that “…it is proposed to convene a high-level consultative meeting with State Agriculture departments on issues that need to be addressed at the State level for ensuring active R&D of GE (genetically engineered) plants including conduct of CFTS (controlled field trials), ease of doing business, designated sites for CFTs.”

Clearance questioned

This, even as the Supreme Court has begun hearing a petition by anti-GM activist groups, who say that the technical clearance to GM mustard opens the crop to “imminent commercialisation” that will “contaminate” India’s mustard gene pool. They also allege that results of tests on GM mustard weren’t fully open to public scrutiny and the clearance violates recommendations of a Supreme Court-constituted expert committee on how GM crops ought to be tested. The Supreme Court is yet to pass an order on these issues.

GM mustard has several hoops to pass before a likely clearance. It needs to be cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, the apex regulator, and then also a possible approval by the Environment Minister. Bt Brinjal was cleared by the GEAC in 2010 only to be vetoed by former Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh. Incumbent Environment Minister Anil Dave had earlier told The Hindu that mustard, being a winter crop, was unlikely to be ready for field tests this year. Even if the GM crop were to be cleared, the States have the option of disallowing it in their fields.

A senior official told The Hindu that Friday’s meeting with the States was only attended by Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, though several more States were invited.

The consultation with States was part of a three-year long project funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to “educate” a variety of stakeholders on biosafety and India’s commitments, under international treaties, to treat GMOs responsibly, the official added. “We’ve had an extremely transparent mechanism — much more that similar disclosures in other parts of the world — for GM mustard,” the official said.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 3:05:49 AM |

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