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Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Field Trials and Food Crops in India

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

A committee of technical experts comprising scientists from top public research laboratories and academic institutions set up by the Supreme Court last year has changed the 10-year  moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenics that it recommended in October 2012 to what appears to be an indefinite moratorium on food crops in its final report.

Based on "the examination/study of the safety dossiers, it is apparent that there are major gaps in the regulatory system. These need to be addressed before issues related to tests can be meaningfully considered. Till such time it would not be advisable to conduct more field trials," the experts say in their final report without specifying any time frame.

In other significant recommendations, the panel finds herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops "completely unsuitable" in the Indian context and recommends that field trials and release of HT crops should not be allowed in India.

Noting that a single committee such as GEAC or RCGM-these are the main regulatory agencies for biotech crops-doing all the evaluation is not sufficient, the expert panel has called for the setting up of a secretariat comprising dedicated scientists with area expertise as well as expertise in biosafety. "This will require consultation with experts having experience at the international level in biosafety testing and evaluation of GM safety dossiers in reputed regulatory bodies," the expert panel said, while suggesting that this should be done in collaboration with the Norwegian government.

Its reason for singling out Norway is that the Norwegian system has "an established commitment" and is one of the few attuned to considering socio-economic issues that would be important in the Indian context.

The report said the new regulatory body should have area-wise subcommittees/expert groups in the following fields: health (human and animal); environment and ecology; agro-economics and socio-economics; molecular biology; soil science and microbiology; plant biology and regulatory toxicology among other specializations.        

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