Home / Industry / Agriculture /  Govt panel cleared 80% GM field trials since May 2014, show minutes

New Delhi: A Union environment ministry panel approved 80% of proposals it received to conduct confined field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power, minutes of the committee meetings showed. None of the proposals were rejected.

The ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the central regulator that gives clearances for field trials of GM crops and import or export of GM seeds, has met eight times since NDA came to power.

According to the minutes of those eight meetings, seen by Mint, a total of 51 proposals for “confined field trials of transgenic crops" were considered by the GEAC.

Field trials for GM crops, also known as transgenic crops, are controversial, with activists claiming the trials are being pushed in a bid to commercialize them. They claim the whole process is being done in a non-transparent manner without proper public scrutiny.

Of the 51 proposals, GEAC approved 40 (78.43%) and deferred eight, while three applications were withdrawn. Among the crops that received a green signal for trials were rice, sugar cane, maize, chickpea, brinjal and potato.

“A majority of the eight proposals that were deferred were done for the want of expert opinion," said a senior official of the environment ministry, who did not want to be named.

He, however, defended the approvals. “GEAC is not bypassing any laws. All rules and regulations are being followed while clearing them. All precautions are being taken," he said.

An expert described GEAC as a “clearing house" for field trial proposals.

“Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh changed the name of GEAC from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. But that has not made any difference. It works as a clearing house," said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), which is a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states in India.

She also criticized the environment ministry on its transparency record, saying the ministry only makes public abridged version of minutes of GEAC meetings and not detailed ones.

The issue of field trials of GM crops and their commercialization, especially food crops like brinjal and mustard, has been a contentious one in India. At present, only Bt Cotton’s commercial application is allowed in India while commercialization of GM food crops is not allowed.

Recently, controversy erupted when the GEAC was hearing an application for commercialization of GM mustard.

Mint reported on 6 February that after a lot of opposition from environmentalists, environment minister Prakash Javadekar declared the government would not impose GM mustard on consumers and that a final decision will be taken only after due deliberation.

On 28 March, Mint reported that GEAC has deferred a decision on allowing GM feed for animals after receiving several applications.

Since coming to power in May 2014, the NDA government has been trying unsuccessfully to build consensus around the issue.

In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP had said that it would not allow genetically modified crops without proper scientific investigation.

The organizations opposing GM crops include the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, or SJM, that is affiliated to the ideological parent of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS.

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