Rallis India seeks ‘no objection’ to hold GM cotton, maize trials

Our Bureau Bengaluru | Updated on October 27, 2021

Karnataka’s move to obtain public comments makes pro, anti groups unhappy

Rallis India Ltd has approached Karnataka seeking no objection certificate (NOC) to carry out confined field trials of genetically-modified and herbicide tolerant cotton and maize.

The Seeds Division of Rallis India Ltd has developed genetically modified maize plants resistant to fall armyworm, stem borers and herbicide glyphosate. Also, it has developed cotton resistant to bollworm and herbicide glyphosate.

Rallis India, which sought the NOC in July this year, told the State government that it completed the first level of regulated field trials for GM maize and cotton.

Main objective

“We have observed that these technologies are very efficacious to control major pests of cotton and maize in addition to eliminate the dependence on manual labour for removal of weeds,” the company had said seeking permission for the second level of trials called BRL1 or the Biosafety ResearchLevel 1.

The main objective of these trials is to evaluate the safety of the newly-developed maize and cotton plants towards humans, animals and environment and to see the performance of such plants in the confined fields.

Rallis has sought Karnataka's permission to carry out BRL1 trials for two consecutive years 2021-22 and 2022-23. The proposed trials to be conducted in about an acre each for cotton and maize, will be in collaboration with a State Agriculture University as per the Department of Biotechnology guidelines.

Following this, Karnataka’s Forest, Ecology and Environment Department has invited comments/objections from the public before this month's end.

Also read: Banned HTBt cotton acreage may double in Maharashtra

As per the norms changed early this year, an NOC has to be sought to conduct the BRL1 trials from the State prior to the approval by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

‘Typical response’

But this had made the pro-GMO and anti-GMO groups unhappy.

“It is unfortunate that GEAC has taken this decision to ask the companies to get the State’s NOC first before GEAC gives its approval. I think this is counterproductive. States will not have the scientific wherewithal to actually decide and they don’t have the full information of the technology. On what basis they will give (NOC). The typical response is what Karnataka has done is to put out a public consultation, which is actually a bad way to assess science and technology” said Ram Kaundinya, Director-General, Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII).

“Karnataka should approve the field trials and have to take a call on the need for scientific evaluation of the technology. At the same time, GEAC must change the rule and review the process they are following. GEAC should resort to the earlier process,” he said.

The anti-GM camp feels that Karnataka should not give NOC to conduct field trials. “On the one hand Karnataka’s move to seek public opinion appears progressive. On the other hand, it is actually not positive because where many other States have taken a policy view and have already taken a decision on GM crops, which also means that they disallow field trials and not just commercial cultivation, it is not clear why Karnataka is taking such a stand,” said Kavita Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

Lack of policy

States such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Kerala, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have said no to GM crops. “The lack of policy against GM crops in the State is problematic and it was in Karnataka in the past that we had serious problems with the way field trials were being conducted,” Kuruganti said.

Further, herbicide tolerant maize means that use of glyphosate will increase and it will have its own health and environmental impacts.

“We certainly believe that the Karnataka Government should not give an NOC to these applications and should take a policy decision against any such applications,” Kuruganti added.

Published on October 26, 2021

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