A Supreme Court appointed committee had recommended an indefinite moratorium on field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops till the government fixes regulatory and safety aspects and a ban on introduction of GM varieties in regions of their origin.
The final report submitted to the court made public on Monday, with dissenting note from R.S. Paroda, agriculture ministry’s nominee, does not mention 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops as suggested in the interim report. Instead, it has imposed four conditions for “meaningfully” considering allowing trials of GM crops for commercial release.
The conditions suggested are setting up a secretariat of experts to fix gaps in bio-safety protocol, housing the new bio-technology regulatory in either environment or health ministry in pace of ministry of science and technology, identification of specific sites for conducting of field tests and mandatory civil society participation as part of risk management strategy.
Once these conditions are met, the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) had suggested that the trials should be only allowed on land owned by GM crop application and not on leased land as done presently.
Aruna Rodrigues, on whose petition the TEC was formed, said the report shows there is “little that can be called rigour or comprehensive regulation” and the GM crop was being pushed without understanding its adverse implications.
The TEC did not find any “compelling” reason for allowing commercial release of BT for food such as rice and brinjal first in India and gave global example of where transgencis such as soyabean, corn and canola are primarily for oil or feed after processing.
Another major recommendation of TEC could result in non-introduction of developed BT brinjal and rice in places where they are domesticated such as West Bengal, Orissa and Bihar as it can result in reduction of “diversity” and “genetic purity”.
“Oryza nivara, medicinal rice, can also be at risk if GM rice comes to dominate the crop as has happened for cotton in India,” the report said, adding that India was not facing any shortage of food-grains like in 1960s to allow GM crops in its area of origin or diversity.
The report also said allowing GM crops in area of origin would impact India’s food export, especially rice which is worth Rs. 12,000 crore every year. This was based on department of agriculture’s submission that India does not have a system to ensure proper labeling of GM and non-GM foods.
The committee has also said no to herbicide tolerant crops on the ground that they would exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihood and environment. “The TEC finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context,” the report said.
The most of the new GM crop applications received by bio-tech regulator --- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) --- are of herbicide tolerant varieties.
The recommendations of the report if accepted by the court could have serious implications for future of bio-technology and GM crops as it means no commercial release of them in the near future.