Updated: October 13, 2021 10:41:04 am
Eminent experts from the field of agriculture have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, protesting against the Central government’s move to seek the response of states and Union Territories (UTs) on what they say is a purely technical matter. The move, the signatories of the letter said, would be against the prime minister’s dream of “Make in India”.
The letter takes exception to the government’s move to consult states and UTs with regard to the proposal to keep gene-edited crops out of biosafety-testing requirement.
Among the signatories of the letter are Gurudev S Khush (Padmashri recipient and eminent rice breeder), G Padmanaban (Padma Bhushan awardee and former director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore), R S Paroda (Padma Bhushan and former director general, ICAR, and secretary, DARE), R B Singh (Padma Bhushan and former ADG, FAO Bangkok) and Dr S K Vasal (World Food Prize Awardee and distinguished scientist).
The scientists said there seems to be a lack of communication between the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Ministry of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the regard.
The Department of Bio Technology (DBT), the letter said, had proposed to keep gene-edited crops using site-directed nuclease technology (SDN 1 and SDN 2) out of the biosafety-testing requirements as “it is at par with normal breeding methods”. The signatories said this is the set protocol in countries such as the US, Japan and Australia. “In fact, the proposed guidelines recommended by DBT in consultation with ICAR are scientifically sound and are based on an in-depth discussion by the eminent experts and fellows of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), as well as an expert consultation organised by the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS), a think tank, based in Pusa Campus, New Delhi,” the letter said.
This being “a purely technical matter”, the scientists said the correct procedure would be to have the matter discussed by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. This body, they pointed out, has experts on biosafety-related matters as well as representative of DBT and ICAR. “Instead, the GEAC has chosen the path of ambivalence and created confusion by referring the matter to the states, thus relegating the issue to the back burner,” the letter read.
The decision of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to put on hold field trials of all Genetically Engineered (GE) crop only after the receipt of recommendations from the states and UT has also left the scientists surprised. “It is not clear as to when and who has taken this decision – the Minister, Secretary, or the Chairman, GEAC? Moreover, why any change in the biosafety protocols for GE crops, if any, is being linked to the well-considered and recommended guidelines for the two categories – SDN-1 and SDN-2 of gene-edited crops considered similar to natural variants? Why link a national policy decision with the conduct of field trials in a particular state in the first place?” the letter asked.
Advanced countries, they pointed out, have already released gene-edited crops. “We require crop diversification; for that, yields of oilseed crops, grain legumes, and coarse grains will have to be increased. Pests and pathogens will have to be dealt with more effectively in future. Unfortunately, we have tied ourselves in knots on GE crops. Accordingly, we are deeply concerned that the same may happen with gene-edited crops. If this happens, our scientists will certainly be deprived of reaping the benefits of new science, which otherwise has great potential to achieve your dream of ‘Make in India’,” they said in the letter addressed to the PM.
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