The Indian government's decision to allow field trials of GM food crops has come under severe attack by a parliamentary committee.

Parliamentary panel slams Moily over field trials issue of GM crops

Vishwa Mohan

Times of India, Mar 27, 2014

Recent government's decision to allow field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops has come under severe attack of a parliamentary committee which criticized the environment minister M Veerappa Moily for giving his nod to this effect.

The panel suggested that any test should not be undertaken till the Centre puts in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight and surveillance structure.

Referring to the recent decision of Moily and the government's regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the panel on agriculture in its latest report said, "the Committee strongly deprecates this" as it is contrary to its earlier recommendation.

Moily had recently given his go ahead for field trials of over 200 transgenic varieties of GM crops which had got clearance from the GEAC in its meeting in March last year. Subsequently, the government's regulator had on March 21 re-validated 10 varieties of transgenic crops including wheat, rice, maize and cotton and allowed multi-national seed companies to go for "confined field trials" of these varieties.

Close on the heels of these decisions and the parliamentary committee's report, various farmers' organizations -- including the pro-BJP Swadeshi Jagran Manch - have, meanwhile, written to the Election Commission, urging it to issue direction to the government to withhold the recent permissions of field trials.

These organizations, in their letters to the chief election commissioner V S Sampath on Wednesday, also demanded issuing an order to stop any fresh permission in the upcoming meeting till the election process are over.

They said that the government's recent decision amounted to violation of the model of conduct as it was taken to benefit the ruling party.

Though the arguments forwarded by these farmers' bodies were not new as similar points had been raised earlier by many anti-GM groups like Greenpeace and Coalition for GM Free India in their letters to the EC, its timing made it more relevant in view of the parliamentary panel's findings and recommendations.

The panel, which has been looking into "prospects and effects" of cultivation of GM food crops in the country, in its report to the Lok Sabha speaker on March 15, noted that the government had failed to furnish proper replies to various questions raised during the committee's proceedings.

It said any new "research and development" on transgenic varieties of crops should be done only in strict containment and field trials should not be undertaken till the government puts in place "all regulatory, monitoring, oversight, surveillance and other structures".

The parliamentary committee, headed by CPM Lok Sabha MP Basudeb Acharia, also criticized the government over the composition of existing regulatory body, saying "it would be in the fitness of things, if GEAC is headed by a technical expert rather than by a bureaucrat".

Referring to the GEAC's earlier decision in the case of Bt Brinjal, the committee asked how the regulatory mechanism had missed the 30% increase in "toxic alkaloid" in it and approved it for environmental release as all these developments could have devastating effects on environment and human and live stock health.

The Committee has, in its 59th report, also pointed out that "there is no check on GM processed food and other items coming from outside the country or being produced here" like cotton seed oil produced from Bt Cotton.