India’s bio-tech regulator is back in business with it allowing the initiation of a process for studies on new Genetically Modified food crops such as mustard, rice, pigeon pea and groundnut.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Authority (GEAC) has gone slow on allowing trails of GM food crops after the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed moratorium on BT Brinjal in 2010.
The GEAC, in its first meeting after Ramesh was made rural development minister, on Wednesday allowed trials and studies for second generation GM food crops. The move is being seen as the UPA government bid to promote biotechnology, considered as a pathway to India’s food security problems.
As of now, the GEAC had allowed commercial cultivation only of GM cotton, not a food crop. The first GM food crop to be allowed was BT Brinjal in 2009 and another food crop, BT rice, is at the advance stage of trials.
In a departure from earlier decisions, the GEAC allowed selection trials of pulses such as pigeon pea, tur and red gram.
“It is first step towards developing GM varieties of these seeds,” a government official said.
In India, the production of pulses has not increased even though its consumption has jumped manifold in the last few years.
The GEAC has also agreed to allow selection trails of groundnut containing tobacco streak virus cost protein gene developed by International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
The regulator has also given permission to conduct environment safety studies for developing transgenic varieties of mustard in Delhi. The GM variety is being developed by Directorate of Rapeseed-Mustard Research, Bharatpur and Delhi University’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants.
To give boost to rice production in the country, the GEAC has allowed selection trials - preliminary study - for many varieties of GM rice of several companies including Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company and Hyderabad based Dupont India limited.
According to officials, it is just initiation of the process for developing GM varieties of these food crops, which may take few years before these varieties are allowed for commercial release.
However, before conducting these trials the companies will have to take permission from the respective state governments. “It is a new pre-condition imposed for conducting any GM trials,” the official said.