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More GM seeds get nod for trials

BS Reporter  |  Mumbai 

with certain restrictions, India is likely to repeat the cotton saga to such as mustard seeds, brinjal, rice, maize, corn, cauliflower etc. Field trials of these GM seeds are going on.
On Tuesday, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan gave permission to conduct trials.
While passing the order, the chief justice said that the government should increase the isolation distance up to 200 metres between the fields with GM crop and other fields. Currently there is no need to maintain such isolation parameter, a farmer, who used GM seed said.
The verdict may help boost production of permitted commodities, majority of which are running into deficit. The GM seeds are meant to increase production by reducing crop losses due to worm attacks amid lower pesticide use.
The production of GM seeds has transformed India's image from being a net importer a few years ago to one of the strongest players in cotton exports. At present, 35 per cent of 27 million bales (170 kg each) of the total cotton production in India is produced using GM seeds. Industry sources estimate the production to go up to 50 per cent in the next 2-3 years.
The verdict would boost R&D in India, with the industry giving farmers newer products that would get them better yields and profits, said Dr K C Ravi, director, Public Affairs, Monsanto India.
Interestingly, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had already given its go ahead subject to certain restrictions in April and May last year.
According to R K Sinha, executive director, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, the court said it never stopped the field trials and hence the ruling would help obtain large scale trials of BT brinjal of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco).
When quizzed about the environmental impact of the GM seeds over which the NGOs have demanded a ban, Sinha said the government counsel, Prashant Bhushan, was advocating only on environment front but the court felt it was ok to permit the field trials if the industry met certain conditions.
The court made it clear that it was not going into the technicalities of the matter as the system put in place by the government would look into it. The court said a designated scientist should be made responsible for ensuring that all conditions are complied with during the trials. Meanwhile, the court directed the government to establish a protocol for testing for contamination up to 0.01 per cent for neighbouring fields.
More than a dozen of transgenic cotton hybrids are under field trials and would head for commercialisation very soon, an industry player said. Currently, there are 59 hybrids under cultivation.
"As an agricultural company, we are committed to investing in products, which farmers say made a difference. We focus on farmer benefits that increase productivity or reduce cost by increasing yield, improving protection from insects and disease, or increasing tolerance to heat, drought and other stress, Ravi added.

First Published: Thu, May 10 2007. 00:00 IST
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