The environment ministry has allowed field trials of two varieties of genetically modified (GM) brinjal and mustard, almost 18 months after the previous government ordered a freeze on such tests.
In a reply to an RTI query early October, the ministry said on August 21, it permitted the Delhi University to hold trials for a mustard variety and Maharashtra-based Bejo Seeds Pvt Ltd to test Bt brinjal.
The decision does away with the uncertainty surrounding the biotech sector. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar had been saying the government had not taken a decision on field trials while maintaining “science cannot be stopped”.
There is a huge debate surrounding GM crops that are strongly resisted by organisations that question their safety and cite concerns that the country’s food security could be compromised due to monopolising farm biotech MNCs. The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation that has sought a ban on open field trials.
The ministry’s nod came after the country’s biotech regulator, the genetic engineering appraisal committee (GEAC), approved trials of more than 30 varieties in two batches this year.
The go-ahead, a ministry official said, was an indication of the positive outlook of the Modi government towards the use of “science” to boost agriculture production.
The process of field trials, a necessary step to evaluate a GM technology’s efficacy and safety before commercial approval, had nearly come to a halt during the previous UPA regime.
The DU’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants, headed by former vice-chancellor Deepak Pental, got the permission to conduct trials for a new variety of GM mustard two years after filing an application with GEAC, the ministry said.
Nod for Bejo Seeds came after a year. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal in 2010.
“Either the minister is being misled by the bureaucrats, or the public is being misled by the minister. For gains of few companies, people and farmers are being blindfolded. Mr Javadekar should come out in public and end this double-talk,” said Manvendra Singh, a Greenpeace campaigner who filed the RTI plea.
The UPA government’s decision to freeze trials was wrong as these were conducted in labs and that, too, after state governments’ permission, the official said. “The Supreme Court had never asked the government to impose the moratorium,” the official said.
Several states such as Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab have asked agriculture universities to ensure that the GEAC safety conditions for field trials were complied with, the reply said.
GM crops are those in which genetic material is altered to provide some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer, such as pest resistance or better nutrition.