Friday, March 21, 2014

The GM invasion is underway

Jayanthi Natarajan dumped the Congress back in 1996 (under the leadership of Mir Jafar Moopanar GK) and Congress got its chance to dump her back in 2013 after Congress was crushed in the state polls and industrialists complained about her to Man Mohan Singh. It was let known that this action was on behalf of a decisive new leader who wanted to show-case his friendliness towards the industry. May not be the best example of poetic justice....but then what is?

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Jolted by the recent electoral drubbing that was attributed to the UPA government's non-performance and indecisiveness, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday cracked the whip, ensuring the resignation of Environment & Forests Minister (Independent charge) Jayanthi Natarajan.

The move, signalling the government's intent to remove bottlenecks in the decision-making process, came ahead of Rahul Gandhi's address to India Inc. Sources said the Congress vice-president was instrumental in Natarajan's ouster and that several batches of industrialists had met Rahul in recent times and singled out the environment ministry for having vitiated the investment climate though "arbitrary objections" and "rent-seeking".
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However the person in charge now is making J.N. look like an angel. The GM invasion is coming and that heroic quantum theoretician Dr. Vandana Shiva and her colleagues will not be able to stop it.

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Taking a major step forward to scientifically assess 'risk' and 'safety' aspects of transgenic crops, the government's top regulator - Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) - on Friday revalidated 10 varieties of GM crops including wheat, rice, maize and cotton and allowed multi-national seed companies to go for "confined field trials" of these varieties.


The companies like Monsanto, Mahyco and BASF whose applications got revalidation will, however, be able to go for field trials only after getting state's mandatory nod. Revalidation of these varieties was required as their "validity period" got lapsed due to state government's stand of not allowing them to go for field trial. The GEAC had given its clearance in those 10 cases way back in 2011 and 2012.

The revalidation of 10 cases on Friday would allow the seed companies, which developed these varieties, to go for "confined field trials" (called Phase-II trial) in bigger area as compared to their tests in a very small tract of land during Phase-I.


The move comes barely a month after the ministry had given its nod to "confined field trials" of over 200 transgenic varieties of GM crops which got GEAC's clearance in its 117th meeting in March last year.


Though the regulatory body had given its go ahead to those 200 varieties, the then environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had kept this in abeyance. The ministry had then felt that the companies should not be allowed to go for field trials unless the Supreme Court takes a final view on a pending PIL on the contentious issue of GM crops.


The MoEF had, however, under the present minister M Veerappa Moily, last month allowed the GEAC to hold its 118th meeting on Friday, taking in view demands of scientist community from across the country. Agriculture scientists from research institutions including IARI, ICAR and various Universities have been demanding "field trials" for GM crops for long, arguing that "confined field trials are essential for the evaluation of productivity performance as well as food and environmental safety assessment".

A group of prominent scientists had met under 'father of green revolution' M S Swaminathan here at National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Nasa) in February and issued a 15-point resolution in favour of GM crops. Pitching for the field trials, the resolution said, "The non-conductance of regular field trials is a handicap as well as disincentive in harnessing the benefits of a wide array of transgenic material available with different research organizations".

Anti-GM activists have, however, taken strong objection to the GEAC's decision on Friday to revalidate those 10 cases of transgenic varieties which will pave the way for their field trials.


Protesting field trials, convenor of Coalition for GM Free India, Rajesh Krishnan said, "The bio-safety tests can be done in a greenhouse or glass house. The field trials are mostly for agronomic purposes. The industry wants to reduce the period of regulation and hence wants to run these things simultaneously". He said, "It is, in fact, ridiculous to simultaneously do assessment of risks and open up the experiment for contamination, which often happens in the case of a field trial, before the risk assessment is done".

The industry body - Association of Biotech Led Enterprises- Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) - has, however, welcomed the GEAC's move, calling it "a progressive push to the march of GM technology in India". "We welcome this and hope that the rest of the applications too shall be expeditiously cleared," said Ram Kaundinya, chairman of the ABLE-AG. 

regards