Can Deny Permission For Field Trials Of GM crops
By Kavitha Kuruganti
21 June, 2007
Genetically Modified (GM) or
Genetically Engineered (GE) crops are trying to make their way into
India across more than thirteen important crops. One such genetically
modified crop – Bt Cotton – has already been allowed into
The issue of GE crops is
highly controversial and there is much evidence present about the adverse
effects of GE crops on farming and other eco-systems, in addition to
potential impacts on human health too, from across the world. The hasty
thrusting of GM crops on Indian farmers, especially in the context of
safer and affordable alternatives being practiced by thousands of farmers,
raises questions about the need for such crops in the first instance.
Genetic Engineering is a
process by which foreign genes from other living organisms are randomly
inserted into the genome of a host organism (any plant or animal that
the promoter wants to modify for some reason or the other, with profiteering
through larger and larger markets being the common reason) with unpredictable
and potentially hazardous results. Very often, only the expected benefits
are hyped up and the potential problems glossed over without any sound
assessment. This could lead to disastrous consequences for all life
on this planet.
It is in this context that many groups are pressing for a sound and
rational policy related to GM crops in the country, to get the government
to assess the very need for GM crops in a country like India, with its
own agro-ecological and socio-cultural conditions related to farming.
Last year, field trials of
GM crops have been permitted in hundreds of locations in the country
including on GM food crops of rice, brinjal, bhindi, tomato, maize,
sorghum, castor, groundnut, cabbage, cauliflower, potato and mustard.
In various investigations, it was revealed that when the companies developing
the crop lease in land from farmers to conduct their field trials, they
do not inform the farmer that they are going to try out a genetically
modified crop in his/her field. The neighbors are not told and the panchayat
is very often not informed. In most cases, even the state government
is not told by the crop developers that they are testing out a potentially
unsafe product in open air conditions in the state as field trials of
Understanding the negative
potential of such serious lack of monitoring systems and the reality
of crop developers misusing the conditions being imposed on them for
conducting field trials, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) - which is the apex regulatory body for looking into GM crop
research and development in the country – brought in a new condition
(in its meeting on 13/12/2006) for any GM crop field trials to be conducted
in India from this year onwards. As per this, Panchayats have to give
prior permission for such a trial to take place in their jurisdiction
before the GEAC considers any application. This is also in conformity
with the constitutional rights bestowed on Panchayats with regard to
their natural resources.
Panchayats have to make good use of this authority that they enjoy now.
When any crop developer walks
upto any panchayat for permission for a GM crop field trial, the Gram
Sabha should be convened and a comprehensive debate organized about
the potential risks of allowing the trial. People who have information
on the subject could be called to the meeting, if needed. The decision
to allow or disallow should be an informed decision taken in consultation
with the gram panchayat.
The Panchayat should also
ask the regulators (Chairperson, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee,
Ministry of Environment & Forests, Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex,
Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110 003) for a full list of potential risks to
watch out for, for all the conditions imposed on the company while conducting
the trial so that compliance can be monitored and so on. The Panchayat
should also get full information on liability mechanisms in case there
are violations observed in the trial. Further, such liability mechanisms
should also ensure that the trial farmer and his/her neighbors' interests
are fully protected.
The Supreme Court orders in a Public Interest Litigation related to
GE crops also insist on a designated scientist to be present for each
such trial taking place who will be responsible for the trial, that
there should be a minimum isolation distance of at least 200 meters
from the field trials to the neighboring fields of same crop and that
there should be a testing protocol for contamination from an approved
institution to detect and ensure that there is no contamination from
the field trial.
If there are any trials of
any new seed varieties happening in your village, inform the Panchayat
immediately. If the Panchayat has not given permission to such a trial,
it could summon the person/company conducting the trial and ask for
full details of what is being tried out, in writing. If there is a GM
crop being tried out, the GEAC should be immediately alerted about the
fact that the trial is happening without the permission of the Panchayat.
At a time when a majority of countries in the world have not allowed
GE crop cultivation for a variety of reasons and concerns, Panchayats
in India have to be vigilant towards such trials and have to utilise
their authority in this matter in an informed and democratic manner
after carefully understanding all the implications.
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
12-13-445, Street # 1, Tarnaka
Secunderabad 500 017
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