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Environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday dropped strong hints that the NDA government is likely to allow controlled field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, while maintaining that it would be cautious about approving them for commercial use.
“How can you stop science, that is the question,” Javadekar told HT. He added, however, that his ministry had not yet signed off on a recent proposal by a regulatory panel to allow trials of some GM crops, a necessary step in product development.
The minister said there was a distinction between allowing scientific trials of GM technologies and approval for commercial use. “Science cannot be stopped,” he reiterated.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a regulatory panel under the environment ministry, recently recommended field trials of 15 GM crops, including rice, chickpea, brinjal and mustard.
Javadekar said this did not automatically amount to government permission for the trials to resume.
Asked about the stated position of the BJP -- widely presumed to be anti-GM -- Javadekar said, “You see…there are GM food crops and then there are non-food crops.”
The July 18 approval to resume GM trials had raised eyebrows, given the BJP’s stance on transgenic crops.
The party’s election manifesto states, “Genetically modified (GM) foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on its long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.”
The process of field trials, a necessary step to evaluate a GM technology’s efficacy, safety and performance before its developer can apply for commercial approval, had nearly come to a halt during the previous UPA regime.
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. They are, however, strongly resisted by organizations that question the crops’ safety and cite concerns that the country’s food security could be compromised due to monopolising farm biotech MNCs.