The new government has approved field trials for 21 new varieties of genetically modified (GM) crops, including staples such as rice and wheat. The controversial move is considered crucial to feeding India’s teeming millions but opposed by some activists as a health hazard.
Supporters of the modern technology say GM crops can help improve yield by re-engineering the genetic code and stabilise food prices.
The government approval comes despite the fact that the Supreme Court is currently deliberating on the biosafety of GM crops.
The issue has been highly controversial in India, which has so far allowed only BT cotton to be commercially grown. In 2010, then environment minister Jairam Ramesh rejected a move to grow BT brinjals.
The BJP termed that decision “wrong”. Sources said the newly-constituted genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC), which include a majority of bio-technology supporters, rejected only one proposal out of the 28 considered by it.
Other crops approved for the field trials include several varieties of maize and cotton. Another six were deferred for discussion because of want of sufficient information.
GEAC chairman Hem Pande, who is also additional secretary in the environment ministry, claimed that the committee could not meet for a year as there was “miscommunication” on part of the government that the SC had imposed a ban on GM crop field trials.
Calling it not a “factual case”, Pande indirectly also blamed former environment minister Jayanti Natarajan saying this perception was based on the recommendations of a SC-appointed expert panel, minutes of the GEAC meeting accessed by HT showed.
Another committee member P M Bhargava, however, disagreed, saying Natarajan had not put a moratorium “without reason”. “This was evident from a letter sent by (Natarajan) to Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) in this connection,” he said in a dissent note.