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Indian biotech regulator approves field trials for 15 GM crops, draws harsh criticism

India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) recently approved field trials for 15 new varieties of genetically modified crops, including rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. The decision, GEAC and government quickly came under fire from farmers’ groups, political groups and mainstream Indian newspapers. Many pointed to the ethical conflicts within the GEAC and the lack of transparency in the approval process, with some calling for the disbanding of the GEAC.

“Giving a clearance to GM crop field trials is a betrayal of people’s trust. The people who had elected the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power are feeling deceived,” said Ashwini Mahajan, national co-convenor of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), the powerful economic wing of Hindu nationalist movement Sangh Parivar. “They had voted on the promises made in its manifesto and the speeches made during the election campaign.”

The current ruling party, BJP, is also the political wing of the Sangh Parivar. It stated in its April 2014 election manifesto that “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.”

The GEAC has approved a total of 36 field trial proposals in the last three months, including the 15 new approvals. The GEAC did not meet for a year between March 2013 and March 2014, which led to a backlog of 70 applications, according to GEAC chairman Hem Pande. Pande told major Indian newspaper The Hindu that the Indian field trials were needed to investigate the GM crops’ viability in India.

In a statement released by the SJM, Mahajan pointed out that “neither the government nor the GEAC has disclosed as yet the contents of the promised scientific evaluation, if any, or what changed between April 7, 2014 (the day the BJP released its election manifesto) and July 18, 2014, when the field trials of GM food crops were approved.”

The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), an Indian farmers’ representative organization also affiliated with Sangh Parivar, turned to the Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar and asked for “annulment” of the field trial approvals.

“Our stand is very clear; we totally oppose the decision of the environment ministry,” BKS general-secretary Prabhakar Kelkar told another major Indian news outlet Business Standard. “We want the government to withdraw the permission for field trials immediately.” He noted that foreign biotech companies have been lobbying for field trial approvals and suggested that the government might have yielded to pressure.

Javadekar clarified that the GEAC’s approvals did not amount to a government decision. He tweeted:

The events led to strong criticism of the GEAC’s regulatory processes. The Hindu commented in an editorial:

Clearly, there can be no credible argument against scientific experiments in agriculture that advance the goal of developing plant varieties that can withstand drought, resist pests and raise yields to feed the growing world population. But this should be done through a transparent regulatory process that is free of ethical conflicts. Proponents of GM crops funding research in agricultural universities represents one such conflict. To aid transparency, research findings should be made available in the public domain for independent study.

The New Indian Express, another mainstream Indian daily, likewise called for transparency in an editorial:

The Modi government must take steps for modernisation of agriculture but should do so with caution and after adequate scientific verification. It must first put in place a strong regulatory mechanism for biotechnological research which is free of ethical conflicts and which addresses the concerns of all the stakeholders.

The Sangh Parivar groups, SJM and BKS, have since asked Javadekar to disband the GEAC. “The present Genetic Engineering Approval Committee is an objectionable body,” Mahajan told online Indian political news outlet Scroll. “It must immediately be disbanded or reconstituted because it consists of the same people who were close to the previous government.”

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6 thoughts on “Indian biotech regulator approves field trials for 15 GM crops, draws harsh criticism”

  1. These critics seem to be confused. Field trials are part of product development. It’s how the test out the plants in the environment in which they are meant to grow. It sounds almost like they think the products of the test fields will be fed to people…. but the complaints aren’t clear enough to be certain.

  2. Most of GM products side effects never be discovered immediately,
    Even with advance technology, Side effects can not be discovered immediately.
    But Once human started to consume these products, The side effects will be discovered down the years.
    This is well known truth, i am seeing lot of people affected with cancer and other disease in US.
    So US banned these GM products in US.

    But Poor India … they allowed the trails…
    After the trails, They wont any issue/side effect in testing e procedure.
    So they ll allow the product to market.

    Once poor people started to consume those products,
    they will be fallen in ill down the year.

    So india must stop this…

    • GMOs have been in field trials and been eaten for 30 years with not so much as a sniffle showing up in humans. Animals around the world, including across Europe, have been fed GMO grains for 18 years with zero health consequences.

  3. Raj is painfully misinformed. Food/feed crops derived from biotechnology are most certainly not banned in the U.S. Furthermore, the use of biotechnology in agriculture is a refinement of breeding techniques that have been used to improve plants for thousands of years. Biotechnology is simply a more precise science, so scientists are able to isolate a specific gene to make exact changes to a crop (for example, to make a corn plant resistant to the corn borer insect.)

    Scientists around the world agree that the risks associated with crop
    plants developed using biotechnology are the same as those for similar
    varieties developed using traditional breeding methods. I hope India will resist the fear-mongers who want to keep India’s agricultural production antiquated and inefficient.

    • Refine your techniques – or your BS – all you want.

      The arguments to Keep US Corporations out – hinge on Scientific AND Social Reasons !

      If you want to help – why this arm twisting, targetting, bribery & corruption – of those involved in the Approval Process ?

      Us US efforts are Unconscionable, Indefensible – and Hurried ! A desperate attempt to access and penetrate the Indian market.

      When Russia, now recently China, Switzerland, France opposition farmers groups, and so many countries banning GMO in FOOD – there is No REASON for India to go OUT ON A LIMB- or defeat its own efforts to KEEP GMOs OUT !

      Whatever Genetics &/or hybridisation needs to be done – we will DO IT OURSELVES ! We are quite capable of doing so.

      THANK YOU VERY MUCH ! BUT – NO THANKS !!

      As they say .. – Beware of Greeks bearing GIFTS !!!

  4. There are 2 Sets of Reasons WHY GMO should be OUT of the Food Chain.

    1. The Health Reasons – Numerous reasons. Studies
    establish this conclusively for the strains currently being peddled / pushed. With Inadequate testing & inadequate impact Analysis.

    2. The Social Reasons.

    (a) Why would ANYONE allow an OUTSIDER to come in to their country – take over the Seed business & create a monopoly, sabotage its farmers, and profit off the back of Agricultural dependence of farmers on a Single Group of GMO Corporations ? One would have to be DAFT to do so. Or seriously corrupted !

    (b) Why should any country :-

    – that has no shortage of Brinjal – (India) -ie No need to boost output – Seek to promote Bt Brinjal – under the spurious claim of – greater Crop yields. When they have enough. Brinjal locally – that is the greatest source of biodiversity in brinjal.
    Why would they allow a monoculture to overtake its food supply – that too from a foreign Corporate Capitalist whose only interest is Profit ? And compromise its brinjal diversity ?

    For Brinjal the ‘mother’ gene pool diversity is located in India (globally) – like Peru for potatoes. Why will /would anyone in his or her right mind – allow Contamination of the huge variety of mother Gene pool diversity in India – to a deviant, risky, spurious Monopolistic pretender-controlled, Monopolistic controlled Plant like Bt Brinjal – when it is defective directly – plus SOCIALLY make NO SENSE for the Asian Subcontinent.

    Why would we allow adefective pretender screw up/contaminate OUR highly diversified Gene Pool iBrinjal, the greatest globally ? To some moneyed UPSTARTS !

    It is NOT in the Public Interest ! Neither of theFarmers. Nor the Consumers, Nor the general Population AT LARGE !!

    Let them ROT in HELL… I say..

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