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Parliament Panel suggestion GM crops dismissed

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Genetically Modified crops (GM crops)
Genetically Modified crops (GM crops)

Background

  • Permission has been given to private companies to conduct field trials of GM crops such as cotton, corn and maize in Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
  • The government has allowed commercial cultivation of Bt cotton, while moratorium has been put on Bt brinjal.

Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Agriculture’s Recommendations

In August 2012, the PSC on Agriculture, headed by Basudeb Acharia, had recommended to the government to stop all open-field trials of transgenic crops until it develops a better system of monitoring and oversight. The panel had also called for a complete overhaul of the regulatory system and thorough probe into how permission was initially granted in 2009 to commercialise Bt brinjal. The major recommendations were:

  • The panel recommended re-evaluation of all research findings in Bt cotton seeds in the light of studies that highlighted inexplicable changes in the organs and tissues of Bt-cotton seed-fed lambs.
  • Thorough probe into the permission given to commercialisation of Bt Brinjal right from the beginning till a moratorium was imposed in 2010. Also that there should be examination of research reports and assessment by independent scientists of Bt Brinjal by an agency other than the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which gave approval on its own assessment, to avoid conflict of interest.
  • There should be mandatory labelling of products from GM crops, unchecked import of GM products should be stopped and suggested that alternate organic farming should be encouraged, for which, as of now, there is no government support. An explanation has been sought from the Department of Consumer Affairs as to why no examination was done of the lakhs of tonnes of Bt cotton seed oil extracted from Bt cotton that has entered the food chain.
  • The government must not allow field trials of GM crops till there is a strong, revamped, multi-disciplinary regulatory system in place. We studied the regulatory system in different countries and found that the one in Norway was the best.
  • Having noticed several shortcomings in the functioning, composition, powers and mandate of GEAC and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) in their regulatory role, PSC recommended to their sister committees on Science and Technology and Environment and Forests to do a comprehensive examination and report to Parliament.

Ministry of Agriculture (GOI) view on GM crops

  • Sources said the Ministry in the Action Taken Report on the panel’s contention has stated: “Ban on GM crop field trails will be highly detrimental and not in the national interest. Adoption of this recommendation would bring to a halt the process of testing the safety of GM crops.”
  • Dismissing a parliamentary panel’s suggestion to halt all field trials of GM crops, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has said the government can’t take the decision on banning them because such kind of farm research is important for ensuring food security.
  •  “We are not supporting that (Panel’s recommendations). Ultimately, food security is the important issue for a nation like India and here we cannot take this type of luxurious decision of banning field trials,” Mr. Pawar told PTI in an interview.
  • Research in Genetically Modified (GM) crops and their field trials should continue in a country which has huge population, he said.
  • Mr. Pawar said, however, that caution should be exercised while allowing GM crops for commercial cultivation.
  • “We have to take abundant precaution that it will not affect either environment and other crops or animal and human health. We need to be very, very cautious,” he said.

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