‘We have no business to halt ongoing research and development’

Reversing his predecessor Jayanti Natarajan’s stance, M Veerappa Moily, Minister for Petroleum, Natural Gas and Environment, has approved the biotech regulator – Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)’s year-old decision to permit field trials of genetically modified crops such as rice, wheat and maize among others.

Expert panel

“We have no business to halt the ongoing research and development work,” Moily told reporters here on Thursday. “GEAC is an expert and statutory committee and the Ministry must not undermine it.”

Natarajan had earlier decided to put on hold all approvals – including those granted by GEAC –citing ongoing public interest litigation in the Supreme Court seeking a total ban, including on field trials, of GM crops.

To be displayed again

The minutes of the decisions taken by GEAC for granting approval on March 22 last year were removed from its website after they were uploaded and displayed for a few days.

The minutes have been cleared and will now be put up again on the GEAC website, said P.V.Rajagopalan, Secretary, Environment Ministry.

The trials approved by GEAC include Bayer Bioscience’s GM rice for insect tolerance, Monsanto’s insect protection and weed management in maize, Mahyco and BASF India’s proposals on GM rice.

Castor, cotton

The GEAC had also approved the Directorate of Oilseeds Research’s proposal seeking extension of validity of trials in castor and Central Institute of Cotton Research’s proposal seeking extension of validity to event selection trials on transgenic cotton for bollworm resistance.

Emphasising that the Ministry’s decision is not in conflict with the Supreme Court’s views, Moily said the concerns of the court-appointed Technical Expert Committee on bio-safety and regulatory process had been taken into account.

A majority of the committee members had suggested that all trials of GM crops be suspended.

Moily said all field trials would be subject to GEAC approval and consent from the respective State. Six States, including Gujarat and Maharashtra, have given no-objection to field trials of GM crops. The Coalition for a GM Free India has slammed Moily’s move terming it as unscientific, anti-people and reeking of vested interests.

‘Against citizens interest’

“The writing on the wall is clear now. The UPA government is against the interest of the citizens, our farmers and the welfare of the nation itself and is hand in glove with the multinational GM seed industry, which stands to gain immensely from the numerous open field trials of GM crops.

“Why else will they permit these field trials of risky GM crops which had been put on hold by the previous Environment Minister Jayanti Natarajan?” said Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India.

(This article was published on February 27, 2014)
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