GM regulators consult NGOs, seed companies on biosafety

By Sopan Joshi
Published: Friday 31 March 2006

for the first time, regulators of genetically modified (gm) crops in India organised a workshop with state government officials to account for the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The workshop, held on February 27-28 in New Delhi, deliberated over the modifications required in the rules of handling gm crops.

The workshop was organised by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) of the Union ministry of environment and forests, which regulates the release of gm crops for commercial cultivation. It included a moderated interaction between the seed industry and the ngos who oppose the way gm crops are handled in India.

There was a need for consultation to streamline procedures of handling gm crops," says Bir Singh Parsheera, joint secretary to the ministry and geac chair. Twenty ngos, led by Greenpeace-India and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, had complained to geac in January 2006 that the seed companies were violating norms for field trials of gm crops.

Calling themselves the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (mec), these ngo s had conducted a study that showed irregularities in the handling of gm crops. The mec demanded that geac should take a clear stand on marketing tactics used by seed companies to advertise field trials and hold demonstrations on trial plots. It alleged that produce from trial plots was being sold in the open market.

The seed companies acknowledged they were using field trials for advertisements, but said this was due to the nature of the seed trade.

The rules require companies undertaking field trials to inform the state governments. While the companies claimed they always keep state governments informed, some state officials present at the meeting denied receiving any such intimation about the trials in their states. The seed companies, however, played this down saying it was due to a communication gap" and teething problems.

It was suggested at the meeting that the geac set up an auditing mechanism to monitor the number of permissions granted to develop seeds of Bt cotton, the only gm crop allowed for commercial cultivation in India. This figure, one official said, should be tallied with the amount of Bt cotton seed sold in the market, thereby putting a check on the illegal Bt cotton.

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