SC verdict on GM crops later this month

SC verdict on GM crops later this month

The Supreme Court will take a final call on conducting field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, as scientists from both sides of the genetic divide agreed on a regulated “field trial” inside a farming institute to end the four-year impasse on field trials of GM crops.

The apex court will hear a public interest litigation (PIL) on banning of GM crops in the fourth week of September. However, its six-member Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on GM crops is split down the middle, fuelling the controversy on GM crops.
But both groups agree on holding field trials in a restricted manner in notified areas within farming universities or agriculture institutes in various agro-climatic zones in order to continue with research on GM crops, including food crops.

The five TEC members who opined against GM food crops are veteran scientists P S Chauhan, P C Kesavan, P S Pamakrishnan, I Siddiqi and B Sivakumar.

The majority TEC group's report, which called for banning GM food crops and restrict other GM crops, recommended contained field trials for research in a limited number of locations and only on public land that would be and permanently set aside for conducting GM crop trials.

The lone dissenting member in the TEC, former chief of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) R S Paroda, too suggests confined trials at notified areas in various agro-climatic zones under the supervision of site-specific monitoring committees.
An All-India Coordinated Research Project on Transgenic Testing and Evaluation, as suggested by Paroda in his report, could be created to evaluate GM crops developed by private and public-sector agencies, said R B Singh, president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Both sides admitted that there was no substitute to field trials as glass-house conditions cannot replicate field conditions, and also, India has adequate laboratory infrastructure for food-safety evaluations, said Singh, who is not a member of the TEC.

Among the pending applications before the GM crop regulator, there are requests to conduct field trials of 18 GM food crops, including rice, wheat, potato, tomato, cauliflower, cabbage, brinjal and sugarcane.

For field trials under confined conditions supervised by a technical authority, Paroda said there was no need to seek a no-objection certificate from states. Approval from states is needed only when the seed is released for general cultivation.

The two reports, as diverse as chalk and cheese, are now used by pro and anti-GM lobbies to flag their concerns.