RSS affiliated farmers' union Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has dashed the hopes of the seed industry to get central government approval for the field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country.
Responding to requests from BKS to not permit such trials, the ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has decided not to consider any such requests without a recommendation from the concerned state government or Union Territory where the trials are proposed to be undertaken. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the environment ministry is the approving authority for conduct of such field trials. The Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) has expressed disappointment over the government decision.
"We are disappointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change's regressive decision to not go ahead with the Bt Brinjal field trials or any other GM crop trials without considering the recommendations from States and UTs. This further complicates the already cumbersome process of conducting field trials of transgenic crops in India. As per the regulatory process, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) reviews the data submitted along with the application to conduct field trials and is the only body by law to review the safety of the submitted data and grant final approval of field trials. It is not possible for the states to review the data and make decision. GM crops undergo rigorous safety assessment and conducting scientific research trials is a crucial part of this safety assessment. The proposed process further puts a question mark for science to progress in agricultural biotechnology let alone commercialisation and will lead to complete stoppage of GM research in India," Dr Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, FSII said.
BKS had in the last one year written to the central government and state governments of Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, to not give 'No Objection Certificate' for biosafety field trials of Bt Brinjal. Separately, some nongovernmental organistions had also approached Tamil Nadu with a similar request. In a response to a question in the Rajya Sabha, environment minister Prakash Javadekar stated that the government has " decided that proposals for field trials of GM crops, including Bt brinjal, will not be taken up for consideration in the GEAC without the recommendation of the concerned State/UT Government".
Ram Kaundinya, Director General, FSII and Alliance for Agri Innovation said that this will "jeopardise the huge investments made by the Indian private sector companies in this space as well as the investments being made by the government through public institutions."
According to him, careers of thousands of students studying biotechnology will be impacted. "If we do not use GM technology, we will lose opportunities to save water and reduce fertiliser and pesticide consumption. This is a huge setback for science and technology in agriculture. Most importantly it puts the Indian farmer at the grave risk of becoming uncompetitive in the international markets," Kaundinya said. He wanted the government to develop a science-based biotechnology policy to enable India to regain the leadership in biotechnology that it once enjoyed. "We need to ensure that farmers in India get access to the same technology that farmers in many other countries enjoy. Our Honourable Prime Minister has committed to the doubling of Farmers income and adoption of new innovations is a major component of the strategy to achieving this goal. Therefore, we urge that the science based regulatory process in the country be restored and all applications are assessed in purely scientific and time-based manner," he added.
The development comes in the backdrop of India's earlier plans to allow bio-safety research field trials of two new transgenic varieties of indigenously developed Bt Brinjal in eight States during 2020-21.
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