Agri Business

Centre’s indecision on GM crops leaves field open for black market operators

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on July 21, 2020 Published on July 21, 2020

Both proponents and opponents want clarity

The Centre needs to take a concrete stand on Genetically Modified (GM) crops, say environmentalists and pro-GM seed farmers’ organisations who have locked horns over the safety of GM crops.

“HT cotton, Bt brinjal, and HT soya seeds are available in the black market and farmers are already cultivating GM crops. The government must take a call and allow GM crop cultivation that will stop the black marketing of HT seeds and help farmers to enhance the yield with minimum cost,” said Anil Ghanwat, President of the Shetkari Sanghatana, which supports GM technology.

However, anti-GM crop activists say that GM crops will be irreversibly hazardous to biodiversity and people’s health. HT cotton is not suited for India, where a majority of the farmers are small holders. GM crops will reduce farm employment, and other crops may be affected by HT cotton cultivation, they add.

But Union Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo told Lok Sabha in July last year, “There is no scientific evidence to prove that GM crops are unsafe.”

Read the first part of the story: ₹300-cr illegal HT cottonseeds trade thrives in Andhra, Telangana, Maharashtra

 

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, while replying to a question in the Lok Sabha in March, said the government aims to achieve the goal of food security and nutritional requirements for a growing population by using the best available technology and scientific inputs that are beneficial to farmers and safe for the environment and for human health. He added that most countries are signatories to the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety, which has a well-defined mechanism of regulation of GM crops, including bio-safety evaluation and environmental release. The acceptance of GM crops has increased at the global level, and the area under GM crops increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 191.7 million hectares in 2018, he added.

 

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has received feedback from multiple stakeholders for and against the release of GM brinjal and GM mustard. “The feedback was suitably considered by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), which has advised additional studies to be conducted for assessment of impact on environment and health,” the Agriculture Minister stated. The delay in the government’s action to approve or reject GM technology is compounding the problem, say seed industry players.

Scientific testing of new GM crops is undertaken according to the guidelines prepared under the Rules for the Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-Organisms/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells (1989). According to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, during the past five years, scientific tests were conducted on rice, sorghum, chickpea, pigeon pea, sunflower, castor, potato, brinjal, and tomato to develop GM crops with traits like insect pest resistance, virus resistance, and abiotic stress tolerance.

“The government is aware of where HT cotton seeds are coming from, and who is marketing them. But no action is being taken. Companies releasing illegal seeds and contaminating fields may be pushing for legalisation of HT cotton, arguing that there is no point in holding back farmers from cultivating HT cotton as it is widespread and beyond control,” said a seed industry player.

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Published on July 21, 2020
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