Will India approve more GMO crops? ‘Ideological’ regulators could halt progress

indiamonsoon

The apex regulator of genetically-modified (GM) crops has permitted a Jalna, Maharashtra-based seed company to do confined bio-safety trials on borer-resistant brinjal …. The move has gladdened the agri-biotechnology industry. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Ram Kaundinya, director-general of the Federation of Seed Industry of India ….

But …. [b]oth the [federal government] and the states have strong ideological positions on GM crops, particularly edible ones. Their no-objection is needed for the trials to be conducted. Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar, for instance, is unlikely to permit the trials.

Even before the GEAC approved and recommended GM mustard for commercial cultivation in May 2017, Kumar had written to the Prime Minister to overrule a technical subcommittee of the GEAC that had declared GM mustard safe for large-scale cultivation. He had termed genetic engineering as a ‘hazardous’ technology. The state [did not permit] trials of Bt brinjal is 2009 on the advice of farmers and the state farmers’ commission, he said.

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The government’s emphasis on ease of doing business does not seem to apply to agricultural biotechnology. The regulatory process is dilatory and wears the applicants down. Beej Sheetal [Research] had conducted the phase-1 bio-safety research trials at Jalna, Guntur and Varanasi in 2009 and 2010. Phase-2 trials happened six years later in 2016-17 in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. The trials will be repeated now in another set of eight states.

Even if …. GM brinjal hybrids are declared safe in the trials, the approval for commercial cultivation is not guaranteed. The ultimate decision rests on the environment minister who may give more weight to political considerations than to scientific evidence.

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