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India govt may back GM crop field trials

Published by :Medif Holdings Limited  Date:2014-12-01  Read:4066 Times
Certain states may have reservations against Genetically Modified (GM) crops, but the Centre has backed field
trials of such varieties in "national interest" and even asked investors to look at the potential of transgenic
seeds-driven business opportunities in India.
  
Developments on this front in the past three days show how the government is inclined to make GM a success
story in India as long as the genetically engineered crops do not have any adverse impact on health and
environment.
  
At the time when some BJP-ruled states under pressure from RSS-backed organizations declined to give their nod
for field trials of transgenic seeds, Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar on Wednesday told Parliament
that his government was of the view that "research in GM and confined field trials for generating bio-safety data
with all due precautions should be allowed to continue in the national interest".
  
In a written response to a Parliament question, he also said there was no ban on GM crop field trials by the
government or the Supreme Court -- sending a clear signal to those states which have, of late, denied permission
for field trials despite approval from the central regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  
A day after Javadekar's statement, the official twitter handle of the government's 'Make in India' plan on
Thursday tweeted in favour of genetically engineered crops. It said, "Hybrid seeds (including GM seeds) represent
new business opportunities in India based on yield improvement".
  
It continued its GM pitch on Friday and tweeted, "India has the potential to become a major producer of
transgenic rice & several genetically modified (GM) vegetables".
  
These tweets reflect what the government's 'Make in India' website has enlisted as key "reasons to invest" in
biotechnology sector in India.
 
The mention of GM food crops - rice and vegetables - is significant as there has been long pending demand from
multinational seed companies and scientists for lifting barriers in India for entry of transgenic food crops after the
success story of Bt Cotton (the lone non-food GM crop which is allowed for commercial cultivation in the
country).
  
Recently, the GEAC had approved trials of 13 transgenic varieties of rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, cotton, brinjal,
mustard, potato, sugarcane and chickpea. It had, however, made it mandatory for seed companies, research
institutions and scientists to first take approval from the state where they want to go for field trials.
 
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, have, however, denied them permission. While
Gujarat had refused to give its nod for field trials of GM food crops, the other states did not agree for trials of any
transgenic variety of seeds. Incidentally, all these five states are BJP-ruled. But, non-BJP ruled states too are in the
list of naysayers.
  
After the GEAC's decision, many anti-GM groups including the RSS-linked Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) had
written to Javadekar asking him not to give the ministry's nod to such approval by the central regulator. The SJM
has been vehemently opposing field trials of GM crops in India for years.  
 
It is now evident that though the BJP-ruled states, under pressure from RSS-linked groups, may be cautious in
their approach towards GM crops, the Centre does not have any objection towards field trial - a prerequisite
before allowing commercial cultivation.
  
The other states that denied nod to seed companies for field trials of food crops include Bihar, West Bengal,
Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

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