The Supreme Court-appointed six-member technical expert committee (TEC) on GM crops has failed to make a unanimous recommendation,with one member,R S Paroda,submitting a separate report,which must now choose between the two sets of opinions.
Five members of the TEC have recommended an indefinite ban on field trials of GM crops. Paroda,a former DG of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research,has differed with the majority view on most terms of reference.
Paroda was inducted into the TEC after the other five members submitted an interim report in October last year. He has not signed the report prepared by the majority.
On the committees first term of reference (TOR-A),the majority has said that the release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin of diversity should not be allowed. Paroda has recommended that experts appointed by the Agriculture Ministry should review all crops for commercial release after clearance by Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC).
On TOR-B (sequencing of tests),the majority feels the tests should be carried out in order of increasing environmental exposure from contained to confined situations. The dissenting recommendation says no other national regulatory authority prescribes such tests,and suggests that sequencing of studies could be adopted instead.
TOR-C: Both opinions appear to agree that greenhouse conditions could not replace the agro-ecological regions for which GM crops need to be tested.
TOR-D (adequacy of existing regulatory requirements): The majority thinks field trials should not be conducted on leased land. Paroda says seeking no objection certificates was not justified until the time of commercial release.
Under pressure from the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh,GEAC had made no-objection certificates mandatory for field trials leading to huge delays in research. A frustrated Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar wrote to chief ministers last year,virtually pleading with them to allow field trials.
TOR-E (detecting potential environmental contamination during GM trials): The majority feels it will not be possible to deploy tests to ensure no contamination occurs during trials; Paroda has suggested a review of existing isolation distances and the need for additional measures to avoid contamination.
TOR-F (setting up an independent biosafety testing institution): The majority opinion is that the Indian regulatory system has major gaps. It has pointed to Norways comprehensive and reputed biosafety system,and recommended a collaboration with that country. Paroda has said it will not be advisable to set up a single institution for all biosafety tests.