Thursday, October 13, 2016

NEWS : Government looks to press ahead with GM mustard

TNN | 

NEW DELHI: The government will be guided by scientific evidence and "larger interests" of consumers and farmers in deciding commercial use of GM mustard even as it works to narrow the gap between opponents and supporters of the genetically engineered crops.

In keeping with its commitment to the Supreme Court that has stayed a decision on commercial release till October 17, the government is looking to reengage public opinion and non-government organisations. A sub-committee of the central biotech regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has, meanwhile, been examining the 800-odd stakeholders' comments it received during the 30-day period (September 5 October 5).

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee will take its final call only af ter going through the subcommittee's report on stakeholders' comments. A plea claiming that the crop had no advantage over non-GM crops and was, in fact, likely to introduce contaminants is being heard by the SC.

Though the forthcoming Rabi season may be ruled out, the government is trying to tackle differences with anti-GM mustard groups that include the RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). The SJM's decision to join hand with antiGM notables like Vandana Shiva, Kavitha Kuruganti and Aruna Rodrigues does pose a problem for the government but it intends to link its final decision to scientific reports and possible gains of the crop in terms of food security .

Consultations at the highest levels in government have concluded that the GM crop has benefits and it would help farmers as well as consumers and these are strong reasons to move ahead if safety issues are addressed. Though there might be some delay as the government re-engages anti-GM opinion, the direction seems to be in favour of commercial release. The previous UPA government took a different view of GM crops as it was more influenced by NGOs campaigning against genetically modified crops.The GEAC had in 2010 cleared Bt brinjal but the decision was not accepted by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

Swaraj Abhiyan leader Prashant Bhushan and others have challenged the release of GM mustard in the SC alleging that the regulatory mechanism was not functional and sought a ruling against Herbicide Tolerant (HT) crops including GM mustard (DMH 11) and its parent lines and variants.

Even if the Centre clears GM mustard, it will be up to states to decide whether to use the seed. But the goahead will mark a big step towards breaking the logjam and open the doors for commercial use for other food crops too.

The opponents of GM mustard have claimed that the technical committee's report was flawed and pointed to SC-appointed member of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) Pushpa Bhargava's criticism that allowing commercial use would be disastrous as multinational organisations would take over Indian agriculture.

The government, however, feels the concerns are overstated and that scientific evidence would be the arbiter as GM crops can hold out the possibility of increased agriculture production and help reduce food deficits.


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