Dec. 6, 2012
The Indian government has opposed suggestions to ban open-field trials of genetically modified crops, telling the Supreme Court on Friday that any such move will be detrimental to the country's food security and set back research in this area by 20 years.
"We are not accepting this report at all. The Government of India supports carrying out of field trials," Attorney General GE Vahanvati told a two-judge bench, referring to a report of a panel appointed by the apex court.
In the face of opposition from both the government and the industry, the apex court on Friday referred the objections of the twin petitioners to the use of GM crops to the experts' panel and asked it to file a final report within six weeks.
Vahanvati said there were no differences over the issue between the bio-tech department, which promotes new technology, and the environment ministry, which regulates the commercial release of such technology.
"Both ministries are on the same page," Vahanvati said, opposing any interim ban on open-field trials while the government tightened its regulatory regime.
India is "unlikely to meet the first millennium development goal of cutting the proportion of hungry people by half if recourse to advanced and safe bio-technology tools were not to be adopted," the government said in a written submission.
"Bio-technology has the potential to increase food security, decrease pressure on land use, and sustainable yield increase in marginal land or inhospitable environments and reduced use of water and agrochemicals in agriculture," it added.
"Ban on GM crop field trials will be highly detrimental and not in national interest...10 years' moratorium will be a blow to Indian science as it would put the country 20 years back on scientific research in comparison to fast-growing economies...like Brazil, China etc."
The government also expressed its willingness to improve its regulatory mechanism and said that field trials should be allowed under strict monitoring as per internationally-accepted norms.
The biotech industry, led by Mahyco Monsanto, also opposed the ban recommended by a five-member technical experts panel. The court had appointed the panel after the Union government had agreed to its composition and terms of reference.
The panel, in its interim report in October, called for a ban on all open field trials till all issues such as loopholes in regulatory mechanisms are plugged.
Two petitions, one by activist Aruna Rodrigues and another by NGO Gene Campaign, had sought court intervention to prevent such trials on the grounds that they involved the risk of contaminating local plant varieties.
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