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Bringing GM to the table – OPINION – The Hindu

    • On May 11, 2017, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) — the scientific committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change — that regulates genetically modified (GM) crops in India — had cleared GM mustard for commercial production
    • After the approval of Bt cotton in 2002, the attempt to bring Bt Brinjal into commercial production faced serious resistance in 2010. After the GEAC approved Bt brinjal for commercial production, the then Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, placed a moratorium after undertaking extensive public consultation.
    • Proponents of GM crops, including Nobel laureates, insist that opposition to GM crops is driven by irrational fears of harm to human health and having an environmental impact and accuse opposing environmental groups of misrepresenting facts.
    • One of the principal reasons for opposition to GM crops is the potential for serious, irreversible damage to human health and the environment.
    • This is especially relevant in the context of crops such as Bt brinjal which involve direct consumption by humans, unlike Bt cotton.
    • Eg: chemical pesticides and fertilizers have caused since the Green Revolution only adds credence to these concerns.
    • In the context of technologies such as GM crops, where there is significant scientific uncertainty over their safety, the precautionary principle suggests that we wait until a broader scientific consensus is achieved.
  • Lack of transparency
    • The lack of transparency in the regulatory process further amplifies apprehensions stemming from a precautionary approach.
    • All the safety tests for regulatory approvals are typically conducted by the same party that applies for commercialisation of GM crops — whether it is Mahyco on Bt brinjal or Delhi University on GM mustard. This conflict of interest was made worse by the refusal of GEAC (in both cases) to publicly release the safety testing data submitted for regulatory approval until GM opponents filed a Right to Information petition.
    • This tendency to operate in secrecy has not only created a serious distrust of the government and the promoters of GM crops but is also fuelling the conflict.
    • Extensive research on public acceptance of GM foods in the European context identifies trust in regulatory agencies and industry as being a critical factor in public willingness to accept GM technology.
    • If there is a genuine case to be made to allow GM crops to improve yields and address India’s food security, GM supporters might want to start cultivating an environment of openness and transparency to allay genuine fears instead of dismissing GM opponents as being “irrational”
    • On its part, the government should adopt a participatory approach to bring together all stakeholders to develop regulatory protocols that restore trust in the process.