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Three States Reject GM Regulator's Directive, Refuse to Test Transgenic Cotton

Currently, transgenic cotton is the only genetically modified crop approved for cultivation in Indian farmers' fields.

Shivam Dwivedi
Three States Reject GM Regulator's Directive, Refuse to Test Transgenic Cotton (Photo Source: Pixabay)
Three States Reject GM Regulator's Directive, Refuse to Test Transgenic Cotton (Photo Source: Pixabay)

A proposal put forth by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to conduct field trials of a new transgenic cotton seed has been rejected by three Indian states: Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana.

The seed, developed by Bioseed Research India based in Hyderabad, contains a gene known as cry2Ai, which is claimed to confer resistance to the pink bollworm, a destructive pest that affects cotton crops. Although the seed had already undergone confined trials and received a recommendation from the GEAC for field testing in several locations, these states denied permission for the trials.

In India, the approval process for transgenic seeds requires testing in open fields before the GEAC can grant clearance for commercial development. As agriculture is a subject governed by the states, companies seeking to test their seeds must obtain approvals from the respective state governments. Among the four states where Bioseed applied for permission, only Haryana granted approval for the trials.

In October 2022, the GEAC sent letters to all states, requesting their views and comments on the proposed trials within a two-month timeframe. Only Telangana responded within the stipulated period, seeking a 45-day extension to consider the proposal. On May 16, 2023, Telangana conveyed its decision not to allow trials in the current cropping season. Gujarat also responded by stating that the proposal was unacceptable, but did not provide any specific reasons.

The minutes of a GEAC meeting held on May 17 were made public last week and shed light on subsequent actions. Following the meeting, the regulator wrote to Telangana, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, seeking their responses and reasons for disapproval. If no response is received within the specified timeframe, the GEAC will make appropriate recommendations based on the available information.

In addition, the GEAC has requested the Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to collaborate on organizing capacity-building activities to educate state governments about genetically modified (GM) crops, the underlying technology, and the regulatory framework for evaluating such crops. The GEAC comprises experts in agriculture and plant genetics and is headed by a senior official from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, with a senior scientist from the Department of Biotechnology serving as co-chair. However, activist groups have raised objections to the GEAC's request for reasons from the states, considering it as undue pressure on the state governments.

Kavitha Kuruganti, a member of the Coalition for a GM-free India, expressed her concern about the approach of the GEAC. She questioned why the GEAC is pressurizing state governments like Telangana and Gujarat to provide reasons or break their silence when they have declined to provide NOCs (No Objection Certificates). She further criticized the fact that the GEAC, as a statutory regulator, is taking a biased lobbying approach by engaging in activities with state governments to influence their decision-making process. She highlighted that this approach contradicts the supposed neutrality of a regulatory body.

Although transgenic mustard has received approval from the GEAC, further tests have been mandated before it can be widely cultivated.

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