The parliamentary committee on agriculture has strongly criticised the regulatory system on genetically modified (GM) crops in the country, calling it inadequate and ineffective.
Speaking to Down To Earth soon after tabling the report in the Lok Sabha on August 9, chairperson of the 31-member standing committee, Basudeb Acharia of the CPM, said, “The committee found that the present regulatory system in our country which comprises of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is inadequate and the regulatory system needs to be more robust, ensuring severe scrutiny.”
Significantly, 11 of the committee members are from the ruling Congress Party. The report, titled Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops–Prospects and Effects was put together after two-and-a-half years by the committee which took up the matter suo moto in 2009-2010. It came in the wake of the huge controversy over GEAC, the regulator, approving India’s first food crop, Bt Brinjal for commercial release.
The committee found that GM crops have an impact on health and the environment and these aspects were overlooked while approving Bt Brinjal trials in India. It also states that there was an urgent need of GM labelling laws in India. Acharia said that there are several issues related to GM food crops and the report looks at them critically. The report also recommends to the government what initiatives and amendments are required in the regulatory system for GM crops. According to sources, the report exposes gaps in the Union government's policy on promoting GM crops, which ignores several things like biosafety, biodiversity and food and seed sovereignty and farmers livelihoods.
The report holds great importance as it is being presented at a time when the Union government, especially the ministry of science and technology, is trying hard to introduce a new regulatory system for GM crops by the name Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI). MPs across political parties, including some from the ruling coalition (Congress and Trinamool Congress), have opposed the BRAI Bill due to its undemocratic and unscientific nature. The Bill proposes setting up BRAI under the ministry of science and technology which will act as a single window clearance system for products of modern biotechnology, including GM crops. At present GM crops are under the purview of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Jyotika Sood, Down to Earth