GM Crops in India: Agricultural Sustainability at Stake
10 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2014
Date Written: February 2, 2014
Introduction of genetically modified crops (GM Crops) has been entranced in severe controversies in India. Following Bt-Cotton, Bt-Brinjal the first genetically modified food crop, has caused a conflict of beliefs and generated heated debates regarding its safety throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Government of India is caught between strong proponents dominated by business houses and small farming community and general public as strong opponents to the proposal. Because of the long term ecological and health issues involved, even scientific community is divided on it.
Concerns regarding the release of GM Crops in environment are many. Effect on non-target species, flow into the host DNA, increased invasiveness, biosafety etc, all have affected its acceptance, research and development. On a bigger canvas, countries and continents stand divided. These divisions on contesting lines are getting stronger and stronger as the time passes by. The issue gets more polemic and complex in India as agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
Government of India is ceased of compulsions and limitations, as also the potential dangers of GM crops. For such reasons, policy framework of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Department of Biotechnology) and Ministry of Environment and Forests, has enforced certain guidelines like: (a) Rules for the Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells, 1989. (b) Revised Recombinant DNA Safety Guidelines, 1994. (c) Guidelines for Research in Transgenic Plants & Guidelines for Toxicity and Allergenicity Evaluation of Transgenic Seeds, Plants and Plant Parts, 1998.
The most important enforcing agency, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is responsible for testing the environmental and food safety of GM crops before clearing it for commercial release in the country. Further, in an effort to bring the multi-departmental and multi-ministerial control of GM crops under one roof, Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill 2010 has been proposed in the Indian Parliament. But it has been slammed by many NGOs and concerned citizens for being highly partial and inequitable.
The development of GM crops has raised a variety of novel legal questions, which our regulatory system fails to answer. Instead, the current regulations burden in form of time and cost, abandonment of research, as well as exploitation of farmers. It is imperative that the regulatory attitudes must change. There is an urgent need to change the fundamental underlying statute to suit the needs of current innovations/ technologies and their repercussions on the society.
The inherent power of GM Crops and genetic engineering cannot be doubted. However their sustainability in the current agricultural and legal set-up of the country is highly questionable. The current synthesis is an attempt to dissect the nuances of implications of GM Crop cultivation on the agricultural set up of the country in the wake of weak policy framework. The primary aim of the synthesis is to trigger thought process and underpinning research in this field.
Keywords: Agriculture, Bt-cotton, Biosafety, Genetically Modified Crops, Indian Policy
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