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GEAC eases norms for field trials of GM crops

The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee's move comes in the wake of several state governments refusing to allow field trials of GM crops even after they were cleared by the union environment ministry.

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GEAC eases norms for field trials of GM crops
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In a controversial move that is likely to face opposition from state governments, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of union environment ministry has decided that it will give state governments only 90 days to grant their consent for confined field trials of genetically modified crops, failing which the ministry will consider it approved.

The GEAC is the apex body mandated with regulating the use of genetically modified organisms, including GM food crops. GEAC had decided back in 2011 that all applicants would be required to obtain an NOC from state governments in the first instance before issuance of approve letter for conduct of field trials.

The GEAC's move comes in the wake of several state governments refusing to allow field trials of GM crops even after they were cleared by the union environment ministry. After the National Democratic Alliance government came to power, the environment ministry has cleared nearly 40 proposals to conduct field trials for GM potato, rice, brinjal, maize, sugarcane and even Bt Chickpea.

The minutes of the GEAC meeting, when this decision was taken said, "Several state governments have refused to issue No-Objection Certificate for conduct of confined field trials despite of approval of GEAC, apex committee notified under Rules 1989. State Governments of Kerala, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu has completely refused to allow the conduct of confined field trials in their states."

In addition to the states mentioned in the ministry's documents, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are not conducting any field trials of GM crops. Further, the GEAC said, "It has also been deided to prescribe a standard format for issuing NOC's by state government.

The GEAC also decided that, "whenever an approval letter is being issued by Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation/GEAC for Biosafety Research Level- I and Biosafety Research Level-II trials, a copy of the letter along with summary of the application should also be sent to the state department of agriculture informing them about the approval given by RCGM/GEAC."

For field trials, the GEAC, through a working group that was established by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology is also moving to establish Notified Field Trial Sites. The working group has mooted that an in principal approval of 10 years per site should be granted by the state governments with a review after 5 years with further scope for renewal. A site selection criteria will be drafted and it was also discussed that a minimum of five hectares should be assigned for the notified field trial sites in state agricultural universities (SAU). Further, in the first phase, 30-40 sites will be notified in various SAUs covering all the agro-climatic zones for crops which are under various stages of product development in India.


Swadeshi Jagran Manch takes a hard stand
Even as the NDA has supported field trials of GM crops, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has taken a hard stance against it. They had also written to former environment minister Prakash Javadekar for revoking permissions for field trials, which had prompted Javadekar to consult them on the issue.
 

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