India: Centre eyes agriculture university farms for trials of GM crops
Jun. 28, 2016
It has identified 40 agricultural universities, having big isolated farms, across the countries, keeping in mind different agro-climatic zones where transgenic varieties of seeds can be put on field trials with appropriate precaution.
"Idea is to convince states about field trials of such crops in protected environment, arguing that the risks and benefits of genetically engineered crops cannot be know unless it is scientifically tested in different agro-climatic zones", said an official of environment ministry.
Besides central agricultural universities in Bihar (Pusa, Samastipur), Uttar Pradesh(Jhansi) and Manipur (Imphal), state agricultural universities in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Jharkhand have been identified for the purpose.
"A final decision on the issue will be taken after consulting states and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The ICAR may also spare farms of its various institutions for the purpose", said the official.
Idea to use farms of agriculture universities for the field trials was first suggested by the eminent agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan who had, in an interview to TOI in January, recalled his proposal and spoke about the importance of such national coordinated project for the field testing of genetically engineered crops as it would provide a uniform method of assessment.
At present, many such varieties cannot be tested despite being given nod for it by the GEAC as it is the states' discretion to allow such field trials within the states or not. Officials in both environment and agriculture ministries believe that the states may agree to the proposal of the 'coordinated project' for field trials as it would be done inside the protected environment within farms of select universities .
Though the GEAC has in the past two years approved field trials of many transgenic varieties of rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, cotton, brinjal, mustard, potato, sugarcane and chickpea, many states preferred not to give their mandatory nod for the scientific field testing.
Among the states, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have strongly opposed to field trials of these varieties. As a result, trials of many of the transgenic varieties of the food crops got stuck.
Responding to a question on permitting scientists to undertake field trials of GM varieties and crops, Swaminathan - father of India's green revolution - had said, "This will provide a uniform method of assessment in farm university-controlled land fields...Sooner this is done, the greater will be the public confidence in the procedures adopted for assessing risks and benefits".
He had suggested that the project coordinators of this coordinated project should be a bio-safety expert, so that the field trials can be assessed from the point of view of bio-safety in addition to agricultural utility.
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