The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) on Friday gave the green signal for field trials of genetically modified (GM) rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal at its meeting in Delhi.
Hem Kumar Pande, chairperson of the GEAC told The Hindu that meetings were not held for a year since March 2013 and there was a backlog of 70 applications pending since 2011-12 of which 60 have been cleared so far.
Friday’s agenda dealt with 15 items and cleared field trials of rabi crops. In the three meetings since March 2014, the GEAC took up revalidation of data and approved kharif crops, Mr. Pande pointed out.
While the GEAC has approved the commercial release of Bt brinjal it has been stayed by the Ministry of Environment and Mr. Pande said the government would have to take a decision on this. The only genetically modified crop approved for release in India is cotton.
So far about 20 GM crops are under trial at various stages, he said and the new approvals were for the first stage of trials on one-acre plots. He said unless research in Indian conditions is allowed, the viability of these crops would not be known.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pushpa M. Bhargava, founder and former director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and Supreme Court appointee to the GEAC told The Hindu that he was particularly concerned about the approval granted to import GM soyabean oil.
“According to my technical information, no oil made from a GM product is free of foreign DNA. Even in small amounts, DNA is genetic material and can cause damage. There is incontrovertible evidence that oils made from GM material do contain foreign DNA,” he said.
Three companies - Bayer Bio Sciences, Monsanto and BASF have been allowed to import the oil. The last time there was objection to the import of soyabean oil; samples were sent for testing to the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), which gave it a clean chit.
Dr. Bhargava questioned the sensitivity of the tests that were carried out. The next meeting of the GEAC will be held in August. However, the country is already using cotton seed oil after the advent of transgenic cotton.
Members who attended the meeting said that while companies provided data to support their proposals there was no system of verifying the validity of the data. They also objected to some dissenting voices, which were not recorded in the minutes of the meeting the last time and the Committee said it would be recorded now on.
One dissent, which was not recorded pertained to toxicity studies in the case of Bt brinjal. Members had demanded that the tests be repeated.
Some proposals for field trials were deferred and more information was sought in some cases. The GEAC has also stopped putting its agenda and minutes of the meeting on the website, a point raised at the meeting.