Four months after the Maharashtra government approved field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops, civil society organisations and activists have launched an online petition asking CM Devendra Fadnavis to cancel the No Objection Certificates (NOCs) issued for field trials in the state. The petition also asks the government to destroy ongoing trials conducted at state agricultural universities.
Lauding the state government on its keenness to ban tobacco, the online petition states, "Tobacco is taken by choice. Food consumers will have no choice, as GM and non GM foods cannot be distinguished visually. Contamination from field trials has been found even when the crops have been destroyed after trial. The flow of pollen and the mixture or regeneration of GM seeds can cause contamination, even in university conditions."
In January, the Maharashtra government had approved confined field trials for GM rice, chickpea, maize, brinjal and cotton. At present, only GM cotton is grown in India.
The go-ahead, based on the recommendations of a state-level committee chaired by nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar, has allowed seed companies to conduct trials on hectare or less within state agriculture universities.
"The state must stop field trials until recommendations by Supreme Court's TEC (Technical Expert Committee) are implemented in toto," said environmental activist Dilnavaz Variava of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.
In 2013, TEC had recommended a moratorium on Bt (GM) in food crops until long-term safety is established, and a ban on herbicide tolerant GM crops. According to the petition, the World Health Organisation has now classified the herbicide used with the Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops, namely glyphosate, as 'probably carcinogenic' to humans.
Stating that the NOC for field trials in Maharashtra are in complete violation of the TEC recommendations, the petition read, "Despite the BJP manifesto's assurance of biosafety, no long term independent lab tests have been done before field trials to establish biosafety as per recommendations of the TEC, and also the unanimous recommendations of the multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, on which BJP had members."
"Citizens need to be aware about GM food. There is already GM food available in the market such as soya-based products which people are not even aware of," said Father Savio Silveira, director of Greenline. "In the absence of labelling, consumers have the right to know, choose and reject."
* Around 99% GM in crops is either to insert a toxin producing gene or a herbicide tolerating gene into seeds, and thereby into every cell of the plant.
* Only USA, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada account for 90% of area under GM. Europe, Japan, Russia, Korea have rejected or severely regulate GM crops. China plants less GM area than India.