the Supreme Court of India, for the first time, on September 22, 2006, issued an interim verdict banning all field trials of genetically modified (gm) crops in the country and slammed its regulatory mechanism. This means that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) -- the gm regulatory authority under the Union ministry of environment and forests -- will not give any further approval to field trials of gm crop until the court delivers its final judgment. The order was issued in response to a public interest petition filed by economist Aruna Rodrigues and other experts. Devender Sharma, one of the petitioners, has welcomed the judgement. "The overhaul of the gm regulatory was long overdue," he said.
The court has directed geac to form an independent experts committee to look into the regulatory aspects for release of gm crops. Following the directive, geac has formed a committee, headed by geneticist Deepak Pental, also the vice-chancellor of Delhi University. Anti-gm activists are unhappy about the development. "Dipak Pental is an ardent promoter of gm, his centre has been trying to develop many gm food crops. His decisions could be biased," says Kavita Kuruganthi of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. "Most of the members of the committee are from geac , which means the same story again," she adds.
Defending the gm crop regime, a senior member of geac, says, "India was the first country in the world to formulate guidelines for gm crops in 1989, even when gm was in the preliminary stages of discussion." Besides, India's gm regulations are also considered to be one of the toughest, involving five statutory regulatory bodies including geac.
The impact of Bt cotton on environment and animal health has long been debated upon. There have been reports of sheep deaths in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 and 2006. The impact on human health is also a matter of concern. T Ramannaiah, director, department of biotechnology, Union ministry of science and technology (most), says Bt cotton oil can prove toxic if not refined. The failure of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has spelt doom for farmers. A study by entomologist K R Kranthi of the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research has shown that Indian Bt cotton is 10 times less effective against the major pests than its counterparts in the us.
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