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Govt shouldn't ban GM crop field trials: Pawar

Press Trust Of India  |  New Delhi 

Dismissing Parliamentary panel's suggestion to halt all field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has said the government can't take “luxurious decision of banning” them as such kind of farm research is important for ensuring food security.

In August, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, headed by Basudeb Acharia, had recommended to the government to stop all open-field trials of transgenic crops until it develops a better system of monitoring and oversight.

The panel had also called for a complete overhaul of the regulatory system and thorough probe into how permission was initially granted in 2009 to commercialise Bt brinjal.

"We are not supporting that (Panel's recommendations).

Ultimately, food security is the important issue for a nation like India and here we cannot take this type of luxurious decision of banning field trials," Pawar said.

Research in GM crops and their field trials should continue in a country which has huge population, he said.

Pawar said, however, caution should be exercised while allowing GM crops for commercial cultivation.

"We have to take abundant precaution that it will not affect either environment and other crops or animal and human health. We need to be very cautious," he said.

Meanwhile, sources said the ministry in the action taken report on the panel's contention has stated: "Ban on GM crop field trails will be highly detrimental and not in the national interest. Adoption of this recommendation would bring to a halt the process of testing the safety of GM crops."

The government has allowed commercial cultivation of BT cotton, while moratorium has been put on Bt brinjal. Permission has been given to private companies to conduct field trials of GM crops such as cotton, corn and maize in Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

In the action taken report, submitted to the panel in November 2012, the ministry has said: "The entire working of the regulatory agencies, the research activities on GM crops and in turn the need of the country to realise the potential benefit of modern biotechnology in terms of food security would come to a virtual halt, if field trails of GM crops are stopped in the country."

According to sources, the ministry has stated that the stopping of field trails of GM crops in states will be a "blow" to Indian science as it would push the country behind in scientific research in comparison to fast growing economies like Brazil and China who are developing GM crops. Noting that field trails are integral part of research and development and therefore decision on field trails is based on scientific facts, the ministry said in the report: "Biosafety research can’t be conducted in glass house as safety efficacy and performance of GM crops would vary depending upon host environment, host crop and inserted gene."

Banning field trails of GM crops would have "cascading implications", it said, adding that the country will fail to attract scientific talent from the younger generation in the absence of opportunity.

"Over a period of time, lack of expertise in a critical area such as food security will set India backward by 30-40 years," the ministry has said in response to recommendations of the panel contained in 37th report on "Cultivation of GM food crops — prospects and effects."

Sources said the panel is expected to lay the Agriculture Ministry's action taken report in the forthcoming session of Parliament.

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First Published: Fri, January 11 2013. 00:53 IST