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Panel for 10-yr halt on GM crop trials

Kalyan Ray, October 18, 2012, New Delhi, DHNS:

Recommends powerful regulatory body

A Supreme Court appointed technical expert committee (TEC) on genetically modified (GM) crops has recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of GM crops and advocated setting up a powerful regulatory system besides conducting studies on long-term impacts of GM crops on food and environment.

The TEC also recommended establishing secluded sites inside the premises of state agriculture universities, Indian Council of Agriculture Research institutes and fields of applicant firms for conducting field trials of GM crops while prohibiting the outsourcing or subcontracting of such trials.

The sites should be used only for growing GM plants and not other regular crops to avoid contamination. Field trials should not be conducted in farmer's fields and this practice should be immediately banned, it said.

The 10-year moratorium was suggested to make space for a detailed food safety evaluation. Several transgenic Bt crops like Bt rice, Bt maize and Bt cauliflower are being developed by institutes. The word Bt comes from the name of a soil microbe whose genes are inserted in the seeds to enable the plant to produce its own pesticide.

The TEC advocated a stronger bio-safety regulator with full-time professionals in place of the existing two-tier regulatory structure comprising the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Union Environment Ministry.

Both panels have about 30 part-time members – mostly scientists from government institutions – who can devote little time on bio-safety issue as they are preoccupied with other works.

There are allegations of conflict of interest at least in the case of RCGM as the DBT is a promoter of biotechnology.

The Department has spent close to Rs 80 crore on biotechnology research in the last five years and many scientists who sit on RCGM and GEAC are also involved in developing GM crops.

Lack of rigour

“The evaluation process has a set of procedures and steps but is short on substance and requisite rigour,” the panel said in its interim report submitted to the apex court on Wednesday.

It recommended setting up of a panel of scientists, qualified in evaluation of bio-safety data of GM crops for scrutiny and analyses of the safety data. It also recommended removing of conflict of interest from the regulatory bodies.

It favoured the conducting of preliminary bio-safety tests, including sub-chronic toxicity in small animals prior to field trials.

The TEC was set up by the Supreme Court in May while hearing a public interest litigation on GM crops.

 

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