In a clear shift from the stand of his predecessor Jayanthi Natarajan, Environment Minister Veerappa Moily has approved the March 2013 decision of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to allow more than 200 successful gene modification trials for rice, wheat, maize, castor and cotton.
Moily has also called a meeting of the GEAC on March 25, a year after it last met and cleared the field trials. The trials were held up after Natarajan had refused to approve the GEAC decision and wrote to the Prime Minister saying field trials were not feasible as the issue was pending in the Supreme Court.
As a result, the minutes of the GEAC meeting approving field trials had to be pulled off the ministry’s web site. The GEAC mechanism had since ground to a halt with the MoEF not calling another meeting.
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At its March 2013 meeting, the panel had given Bayer Bioscience an open-ended clearance to test GM rice in all four regions of the country subject to the consent of state governments. It permitted Bayer to conduct selection trials on 45 transgenic rice events, comprising six genes.
Mahyco and BASF India were allowed to conduct trials of GM rice while Hyderabad-based Directorate of Oilseeds Research’s GM castor had been re-approved for field trails.
Monsanto India was permitted to test its GM maize at alternate sites after facing protests in several states. Similarly, Mahyco was also given an extended clearance for GM wheat trials. Besides, the GEAC had also cleared field testing of various GM cotton varieties by Bayer, BASF and Mahyco.
With Moily now approving the GEAC decision, the clearances are expected to take effect immediately.
The GM crop seed industry has been upset over missing crop trials during the last kharif season and needs clarity from the GEAC on whether it can proceed with its experiments this time round. This is expected to come up at the March 25 GEAC meeting.
It is learnt that the environment ministry and agriculture ministry have also resolved all differences over field trails of GM crops and will soon be filing a joint affidavit permitting field trails with stringent conditions.
“GM field trials is a matter agitating in the minds of the people for the last several years. Anywhere in the world, scientific benefits have to percolate down to society. If we want to prevent research and science, no modern country will be born. We are using science everywhere, in every sector. Why do you prevent in agriculture sector?” Moily had said in an interview to The Indian Express last month.