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GM crops: Decide fast, set up regulator

Feb 18, 2016, 23:58 IST
The continuing indecision of the government over the use of genetically modified seeds in the country is not in national interest. Last week, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), a body under the environment ministry, deferred a decision on allowing the cultivation of a hybrid mustard variety called GM Mustard DMH-11. The GM variety was developed by Indian scientists in Delhi University and did not pose the usual problems associated with the use of GM seeds developed and sold by foreign multinationals. Field trials had been conducted and the mustard variety has been proved to give 25-30 per cent more yield than the traditional mustard varieties which are sown in the country. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said that the government did not want to take a decision in haste. But the debate on GM crops has been going on in the country for many years. The government has not been able to make up its mind. The UPA government stopped commercial production of Bt brinjal in 2010 after the GEAC had given its approval.

Bt cotton is widely cultivated in the country and it has raised cotton production by 2-3 times. One view is that food and non-food GM crops have to be treated differently. But cotton seed oil cakes are used as cattle feed and so they enter the human system. There have been no complaints about GM cotton adversely affecting the environment or human or animal health. India is the world’s largest importer of edible oils. More than 70 per cent of the consumption is met by imports. The soyabean oil and rapeseed oil which are imported into the country are produced from genetically modified crops. So the opposition to domestic cultivation of the mustard GM variety is misplaced. There is a need to increase the production of oilseeds and cultivation of the high-yielding domestic mustard variety which offers scope for this.

The GM mustard seeds will be supplied free to the farmers since the research that led to the development of the variety was publicly funded. So, fears about control of the country’s agriculture by foreign seed companies are misplaced. The bio-safety data will also be put into the public realm for study and appraisal. Issues concerning food security, seed monopoly and bio-safety are the main points of opposition to GM crops. The apprehensions over these issues are mostly without basis. India does not have an independent regulator to deal with the technological and other matters related to GM crops. The government should set up an independent regulatory mechanism and take other steps to promote research into and use of GM technology.

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