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GM crops in India

Context

  • On May 11, 2017, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) had cleared GM mustard for commercial production.
  • Anti-GM groups immediately opposed the decision and appealed to the Ministry of Environment to reject GEAC’s recommendation.

The debate over GM crops in India

  • Commercial production of GM crops has been one of the most persisting public policy debates in India.
  • After the approval of commercial cultivation Bt cotton in 2002, the attempt to introduce commercial cultivation of GM crops faced serious opposition in 2010 and the initiative was finally blocked.
  • After the GEAC approved BT brinjal for commercial production, erstwhile Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, had suspended the appeal after undertaking extensive public consultation.
  • One of the principal reasons for opposition to GM crops is the potential for serious, irreversible damage to human health and the environment.
  • The concern is especially relevant in the context of food crops such as Bt brinjal which involve direct consumption by humans, unlike Bt cotton.
  • However GM supporters claim that there is little scientific evidence of adverse impacts
  • The GM opponents on the other hand, opine that there should be long-term assessment of adverse impacts and no more concrete evidence ruling out the adverse effects.
  • The opponents of GM crops are basically appealing for  the precautionary principle
  • Proponents of GM crops are of the opinion that opposition to GM crops is driven by “irrational” fears of harm to human health and having an environmental impact.
  • The opposing environmental groups are accused of misinterpreting facts.
  • The debate on GM crops is complex and it includes environmental, socio-economic and political dimensions.
  • However, there are two important factors related to the oppositions which need to addressed:
  • invoking the precautionary principle for regulatory decision-making
  • A lack of trust in government and industry that promotes and benefits from GM technologies

Lack of transparency: a major hurdle

  • The opponents of GM crops invoke the precautionary principle which is a widely incorporated one in several international agreements and treaties on the environment.
  • The lack of transparency in the regulatory process further amplifies apprehensions ushering from a precautionary approach.
  • In India, all the safety tests for regulatory approvals are conducted by the same party that applies for commercialisation of GM crops.
  • GEAC’s refusal to publicly release the safety testing data submitted for regulatory approval of BT Brinjal and GM Mustard, until GM opponents filed a Right to Information petition has further worsen the concern over transparency.
  • The tendency to operate in secrecy has not only created a serious distrust on the government and the promoters of GM crops but has further aggravated the conflict. 

How to address the problem?

  • Creating an environment of openness and transparency to alleviate the genuine fears related to GM Crops rather than blatantly branding the GM opponents as “irrational”.
  • The government has a major role to play in this regard. How?
  • The government should adopt a participatory approach in order to bring together all stakeholders to develop regulatory protocols. This would ensure trust in the entire process.
  • However, the most important job lies on the promoters of GM technology to convince consumers, environmental activists and farmers that among various alternatives available for sustainable food production, GM technology is one of the best option to improve crop yields and address India’s food security.

 

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