The long-drawn debate over genetically modified (GM) crops in India saw another shocker this week when one of the country’s Parliamentary committees said it was ‘highly disconcerted’ over the pressure being created by the GM industry over the body responsible for approval of GM crops in India (press release). The parliamentary committee smells a ‘collusion of a worst kind’ happening between the approving committee and the industry and has recommended a thorough independent probe into the introduction and subsequent moratorium on Bt. brinjal in India.
In 2008, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) had noted in a report that when lambs were fed with Bt. cotton seeds, the weights of their liver and testicles increased and the WBC in their blood decreased. The parliamentary committee took note of this and has recommended a professional evaluation of these developments to decide biosafety and health safety aspects of Bt. cotton.
Another interesting observation that the committee makes is that considering India’s rich biodiversity and the irretrievability of transgenic crops released in the environment, any further research and development on transgenics in agricultural crops should only be done in strict containment. Field trials ‘under any garb’ should be a strict no-no. Serious concerns have been raised over the poor policies governing GM crops, absence of a powerful implementing authority, the likely impact of transgenics on agricultural and medicinal crops and labeling of GM products.
The report has met support from independent think tanks and is being seen as a clear indication that the government is waking up to the need for a more broad based debate over introduction of GM crops in India. Sunita Narain, who heads New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment says GM technologies need a robust and credible regulatory framework to work in the interest of people and environment. She deposed in front of the Parliamentary committee earlier and believes that this new report paves the way for a more matured debate on GM crops in India.
Hopefully we will have more indigenous R&D and healthier debates to support or trash each move of the government and the industry towards introduction of GM crops in this country.