Active Stocks
Thu May 23 2024 15:59:05
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 175.45 1.24%
  1. NTPC share price
  2. 372.30 -0.43%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 319.75 -1.86%
  1. Indusind Bank share price
  2. 1,442.00 2.29%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 832.35 1.59%
Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  A questionable GM test ban
BackBack

A questionable GM test ban

Debate over permitting genetically modified foods in Indian fields is controversial on several levels

A Supreme Court-mandated panel has recommended a 10-year moratorium on all ongoing trials of genetically modified brinjal, tomato, rice and several other plants. Photo: MintPremium
A Supreme Court-mandated panel has recommended a 10-year moratorium on all ongoing trials of genetically modified brinjal, tomato, rice and several other plants. Photo: Mint

Last week a Supreme Court-mandated panel of experts that was to recommend, or ban, field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops, effectively put paid to the future of transgenic crops in the country. The panel presented an interim report to the court and recommended a 10-year moratorium on all ongoing trials of genetically modified brinjal, tomato, rice and several other plants.

The word “moratorium", for all practical purposes a euphemism for a “ban", entered the popular lexicon after the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a ban on the commercial release of Bt brinjal. This was a reversal of an approval accorded by the environment ministry’s own scientific body. Irrespective of the apex court’s views on transgenic crops, the very fact that technical issues such as bio-safety, allergenicity—and the establishment for a comprehensive, transparent protocol for testing transgenic seeds—must be discussed on the back of intervention by courts—shows the government’s appalling handling of scientific regulation.

The debate over permitting genetically modified foods in Indian fields is controversial on several levels.

It evokes passions fuelled by positions on bio-ethics—whether genetically modified crops are “unnatural", and hence harmful—to issues of corporate monopoly on agriculture. It is, of course, a well-known fact that commercially-available technology around developing GM crops is largely in the hands of a few multinational companies. These are related, but in reality, different issues. Plant experts and molecular biologists can address safety concerns but the alleged “monopoly of multinationals" is a political question.

Even as these concerns have been swirling for nearly two decades, a competent, independent, biotechnology regulatory authority that is equipped to handle the entire range of these complex issues is yet to be formed by Parliament. A draft Bill proposing such an authority is yet to be tabled in Parliament and while the government can, and is, passing the blame on the opposition for stalling parliamentary proceedings, that is no excuse for the fact that such legislation should’ve been in place at least a decade ago.

The more vexed aspect of the debate around GM crops is that it concerns agriculture, the country’s largest and most unproductive employer, and that state governments are ultimately the arbiters of agricultural policy. It will be unreasonable to impose seeds on states by diktat but finality on whether such seeds are safe doesn’t need a court—but a credible, transparent Union government verdict. Otherwise India can continue to muddle along, poverty and hunger in tow.

Is a ban on the testing of GM crops justified? Tell us at views@livemint.com

You are on Mint! India's #1 news destination (Source: Press Gazette). To learn more about our business coverage and market insights Click Here!

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Published: 22 Oct 2012, 09:30 PM IST
Next Story footLogo
Recommended For You