Govt regulator paves way for field trials of GM food crops including wheat, rice and maize

Source – The Times of India

By Vishwa Mohan,TNN

Date – 21 Mar 2014

Website – timesofindia.com

NEW DELHI: Taking a major step forward to scientifically assess ‘risk’ and ‘safety’ aspects of transgenic crops, the government’s top regulator — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — on Friday revalidated 10 varieties of GM crops including wheat, rice, maize and cotton and allowed multi-national seed companies to go for “confined field trials” of these varieties.

Companies like Monsanto, Mahyco and BASF whose applications got revalidation will, however, be able to go for field trials only after getting the state’s mandatory nod.

Revalidation of these varieties was required as their “validity period” lapsed due to state government’s stand of not allowing them to go for field trial. The GEAC had given its clearance in those 10 cases way back in 2011 and 2012.

The committee, which met under the chairmanship of additional secretary in the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) Hem Pande, however, did not take decision on any new cases in its meeting on Friday. It will meet again on April 25 to take a call on the fate of 70 fresh applications.

The revalidation of 10 cases on Friday would allow the seed companies, which developed these varieties, to go for “confined field trials” (called Phase-II trial) in bigger area as compared to their tests in a very small tract of land during Phase-I.

The move comes barely a month after the ministry had given its nod to “confined field trials” of over 200 transgenic varieties of GM crops which got GEAC’s clearance in its 117th meeting in March last year.

Though the regulatory body had given its go ahead to those 200 varieties, the then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had kept this in abeyance. The ministry had then felt that the companies should not be allowed to go for field trials unless the Supreme Court takes a final view on a pending PIL on the contentious issue of GM crops.

The MoEF had, however, under the present minister M Veerappa Moily, last month allowed the GEAC to hold its 118th meeting on Friday, taking in view demands of scientist community from across the country.

Agriculture scientists from research institutions including IARI, ICAR and various Universities have been demanding “field trials” for GM crops for long, arguing that “confined field trials are essential for the evaluation of productivity performance as well as food and environmental safety assessment”.

A group of prominent scientists had met under ‘father of green revolution’ MS Swaminathan here at National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NASA) in February and issued a 15-point resolution in favour of GM crops.

Pitching for the field trials, the resolution said, “The non-conductance of regular field trials is a handicap as well as disincentive in harnessing the benefits of a wide array of transgenic material available with different research organizations”.

Anti-GM activists have, however, taken strong objection to the GEAC’s decision on Friday to revalidate those 10 cases of transgenic varieties which will pave the way for their field trials.

Protesting field trials, convenor of Coalition for GM Free India, Rajesh Krishnan said, “The bio-safety tests can be done in a greenhouse or glass house. The field trials are mostly for agronomic purposes. The industry wants to reduce the period of regulation and hence wants to run these things simultaneously”.

He said, “It is, in fact, ridiculous to simultaneously do assessment of risks and open up the experiment for contamination, which often happens in the case of a field trial, before the risk assessment is done”.

The coalition as well as Greenpeace India had also requested the ministry not to take any decision on field trials of GM crops unless the Supreme Court takes its final call on the matter. The apex court is scheduled to hear the matter on April 14.

The industry body — Association of Biotech Led Enterprises- Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) — has, however, welcomed the GEAC’s move, calling it “a progressive push to the march of GM technology in India”.

“We welcome this and hope that the rest of the applications too shall be expeditiously cleared,” said Ram Kaundinya, chairman of the ABLE-AG.

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