GM crops: Panel warns govt about poor regulatory system

GM crops: Panel warns govt about poor regulatory system

Lawmakers have cautioned the government against introduction of more genetically modified crops because of an unreliable regulatory system that is "susceptible to manipulations."

The track record of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee - India's highest regulatory body on GM technology - is not encouraging either because of the masochism associated with the constitution and functioning of the GEAC, they said in a report.

Bt cotton is the only commercially available GM crop in India. A proposal to allow GM mustard that cleared all technical and regulatory hurdles, is under the Union Environment and Forest Ministry's consideration.

However, critics question the efficacy of the existing regulatory system. Currently, there are 14 laws and regulations under five different ministries and six regulatory bodies to supervise the entry and growth of GM crops and other technologies involving genetically modified organisms.

"Despite having so many levels of scrutiny in place, none of these levels of scrutiny is directly involved in the process of environmental impact assessment and the regulators are predominantly relying upon the data made available by the applicant himself. The committee is of the view that inspite of claiming to have the most stringent assessment process, we are lacking on the very basis of the same," the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology said in its report tabled in the House this week.

Formation of GEAC is not through a legally robust mechanism, leaving enough scope for bureaucratic control and masochism to continue.

There is no mention of GEAC in the Rules 1989 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 that oversee the manufacture, import, use, research and release of genetically modified organisms. Two of the top three positions in the GEAC are occupied by bureaucrats, while these positions should be held by technical experts with no conflict of interest.

The GEAC was last re-constituted in March, 2013 for three years and subsequently its tenure was extended till the reconstitution of a new committee. This, the committee argued, was one of the examples of the masochism associated with the GEAC.

Bizarre, opaque

In yet another example of bizarre and opaque GEAC functioning, the regulator released the protocols of commercialising a GM crop only in 2011 – almost a decade after permitting sale of genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.

"The presence of district level committee that is one of the most important committees to regulate GM crop at the ground level, is hardly felt in any of the states and union territories. The functioning of these committees also create suspicion in the minds of the stakeholders," the House panel said.

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