A strong pitch for genetically-modified (GM) crops revived again in the top quarters of the UPA with agriculture minister Sharad Pawar batting for it on Wednesday in the wake of the government’s decision to push the food security bill through an ordinance.
Pawar, who was earlier known to have doubts over the food security scheme, maintained in the cabinet meeting that GM crops should be pursued to ensure success of the scheme that targets food handouts for 67% of the country’s population.
Pawar was one of the ministers who spoke e xtensively on the food ordinance on Thursday’s cabinet meeting and also sought more allocations for expanding irrigation projects.
Pawar’s argument assumes significance as environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had recently put on hold approvals given to trial of GM crops by her ministry’s panel — Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee.
The environment ministry’s committee earlier this year had approved trials of several GM crops across different states but Natarajan put them on hold after opposition by anti-GM groups.
The reason given was that the Supreme Court was examining a recommendation of a technical committee to ban field trials of GM crops for 10 years in absence of a proper bio-safety regime.
There is a moratorium on commercial release of country’s first GM food crop — BT Brinjal — for the last three years.
In the cabinet meeting, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh was the lone voice opposing the need for an ordinance on food bill.
Significantly, urban development minister Kamal Nath — a key supporter of the ordinance route — was not present.
GM food has been a bone of contention within the UPA for years. While Pawar and planning commission are in favour of introduction of GM crops to improve yield, some ministers had expressed serious reservation about it.
The parliamentary standing committee on agriculture too had not approved the introduction of genetically modified foods.