EVEN AS the controversy over GM Mustard rages on, another row is in the offing over genetically modified (GM) crop version of jowar — or sorghum, said to be the poor man’s food in India — as some members of a Parliamentary committee is learnt to have taken strong note of it.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, headed by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury, has decided to seek clarifications from Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, and also ask the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) to do a comparative analysis of the nutritional values of GM and non-GM sorghum.
The panel is examining the issue of GM crops and its impact on environment and is learnt to have called for samples of the crop developed by the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR).
The committee is likely to send the samples to NIN. “The panel will ask NIN to make a comparative study of nutritional values of GM Sorghum and conventional sorghum. We are keen to know what was the need to develop a genetically modified version of sorghum, which is the poor man’s food,” a source with knowledge of developments in the standing committee said. “Sorghum yield was already not fetching a good market price and was more than enough to meet the demand. So why was it (GM Sorghum) required?”
The source said the committee wants to know whether there is a plan to introduce GM Sorghum in ration shops under the Public Distribution System. “There are several apprehensions. The panel will examine it thoroughly,” according to a source in the committee.
The panel will also look into issues such as expenditure incurred on research for GM Sorghum and seek the Agriculture Minister’s views on it. How was money from the public exchequer spent on GM Sorghum research “even before any forward-backward linkage planning was done”, an Opposition member in the panel asked.
The IIMR had begun research on transgenic jowar around four years ago, and has now developed Bt Sorghum, which is bigger in size and ostensibly has greater pest resistance. Activists contend that the Central government should not allow consumption of genetically modified jowar by either humans or animals. They argue that since jowar is largely consumed by the poor, any ill-effect of the GM variety will impact more people, and especially those without much access to preventive medicare.
The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has already given its clearance to GM Mustard and recommended approval for its commercial cultivation to the Environment Ministry. But the decision has met stiff resistance from a large number of social activists and farmers’ organisations, including RSS-affiliated ones such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh.
The only genetically modified crop that is under cultivation in India is Bt Cotton, which is grown over 10.8 million hectares. Under the UPA government, the Environment Ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh had disallowed a proposal to allow cultivation of Bt Brinjal, a transgenic variety of brinjal.