The agri-biotech industry has labelled the Centre’s decision not to allow field trials of Bt brinjal or any other genetically modified (GM) crops without first consulting with states and union territories as “regressive.”
According to industry participants, the Centre’s latest step could stymie new investments in agricultural research and development, as well as new technologies that can help reduce the use of water and fertiliser use, both of which are considered vital in the fight against climate change.
Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment and Climate Change, said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha on Monday:’ It has been determined that proposals for field trials of GM crops, including Bt brinjal, will not be carried up for consideration in the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) unless the concerned states and union territories Government recommends it.’
‘We are saddened by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change’s regressive decision to cancel the Bt Brinjal field trials, as well as any other GM crop trials, without taking into account the suggestions of the states and UTs. This complicates the already difficult process of conducting field trials of transgenic crops in India,’ said Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director of the Federation of Seed Industry of India and the Alliance for Agri innovations.
According to Bajaj, the GEAC reviews the data submitted with the application to perform field trials as part of the regulatory process, and it is the only body approved by law to review the safety of the submitted data and give final official approval of field trials.
‘The proposed method further calls into question science’s ability to advance in agricultural biotechnology, let alone commercialization, and will result in the complete cessation of GM research in India,’ Bajaj said.
‘This will jeopardise the massive investments undertaken by Indian private sector companies in this domain, as well as the investments made by the government via public institutions,’ said Ram Kaundinya, Director General of FSII. Thousands of students studying biotechnology will have their careers cut short.’
‘If we do not use GM technology, we will also lose opportunities to save water and reduce fertiliser and pesticide consumption,’ Kaundinya added, arguing for the use of emerging technologies. Most notably, it puts the Indian farmer at risk of losing his or her competitiveness in foreign markets.’
Farmers will be affected
Furthermore, Kaundinya stated that it is necessary to ensure that Indian farmers have access to the same technology as farmers in several other countries.
‘Our Prime Minister has pledged to double farmers’ incomes, and adopting new ideas is a key part of the plan to achieve this aim. As a result, we recommend that the country’s science-based regulatory mechanism be reinstated, and that all applications be evaluated in a solely scientific and time-based way. In reality, we demand that the government adopt a biotechnology policy based on science.’