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Ramesh re-writes rules of GM game

India’s bio-tech regulator has begun overhauling the way genetically modified crops are introduced, bringing in rules for the first time that require conflict-of-interest scenarios to be avoided and states’ consent to be obtained. Zia Haq reports.

delhi Updated: Jul 11, 2011 01:47 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times

India’s bio-tech regulator has begun overhauling the way genetically modified crops are introduced, bringing in rules for the first time that require conflict-of-interest scenarios to be avoided and states’ consent to be obtained.

Environment minister Jairam Ramesh appears gritty about addressing concerns about the regulator — the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — before the nation can confidently embrace technologies that change the way food is produced.

But ABLE-AG, the advocacy arm of the GM industry, says the time-consuming overhaul and lingering uncertainty are hurting projects worth millions of dollars. https://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/050711/11_07_11-metro11.jpg

“Avoiding conflict of interest and making the process democratic are paramount. States have a legitimate say in agriculture. These should have been done much before though,” Ramesh told HT.

New rules bar scientists, who have developed a specific transgenic plant, from evaluating its safety and efficacy as regulators. GEAC members will also have to opt out if a product from an industry to which they are consultants is being evaluated.

Experts, however, argue that nearly all geneticists and transgenic experts are also the ones invariably involved in developing some GM plant or the other. “That’s how they become experts in the field. You cannot have people not related to the subject as regulators,” said Deepak Pental, University of Delhi’s professor of genetics, who is developing genetically modified mustard.

Making state governments’ consent necessary to conduct field trials sums up Ramesh’s approach — Decisions on GM crops and foods will have to be democratic, rather than scientific alone.

India’s federal structure puts agriculture in the states’ domain.

Developers like Pantel argue that India could be better off adopting readymade protocols such as the one for OECD countries, a grouping of 34 advanced European economies.

First Published: Jul 10, 2011 23:57 IST