Context: The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has cleared the proposal for the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) mustard. The recommendation will now go for the approval of the Environment Ministry.
About Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)
- The “Rules for the Manufacture, Use/Import/Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro Organisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells (Rules, 1989)” framed under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, constitute a statutory committee.
- GEAC functions under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).
- The committee changed the name from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee in the year 2010.
- As per Rules, 1989, it is responsible for the appraisal of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
- The committee is also responsible for appraisal of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and products into the environment, including experimental field trials.
- It keeps a check on the use, import, and export of genetically modified (GM) organisms and crops.
- GEAC also has the power to prohibit the manufacture and use of certain recombinants as they are hazardous for commercial use.
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Issues with the approval of GM mustard
- Environmental activists and organizations such as Coalition for a GM-Free India have been protesting against the GEAC approval.
- The activists have alleged a lack of scientific approach or responsible regulation.
- It appears that no additional research has been conducted since the last approval in 2017, which was not cleared by the Environment Ministry.
- The GEAC has deemed the prescription of only two additional tests to address the concerns of stakeholders as insufficient, considering it to have been done in a perfunctory and irresponsible manner.
- There have been allegations of crop developers not doing relevant studies.
- There are allegations the regulatory body colluded with the crop developer in circumventing biosafety assessment in numerous ways.
Advantages of GM Crops
- GM crops improve production and raise farmers’ income by enhancing farm production.
- Reduce the use of pesticides and insecticides during farming which might be a great move for the betterment of the food supply.
- Can produce more in small areas of land i.e. dramatically increased yields.
- They are capable of thriving in a harsh climate, such as drought or heat.
- Can increase nutritional value which can boost the health of people with limited access to food.
- In the present circumstances, the importance of approving GM crops is immense due to the potential benefits they offer, as well as the potential hazards they may pose if proper research is not conducted.
- Therefore unless there is a regulatory system that caters to the requirements of 21st century India, strong scrutiny at various levels is the only way to ensure biosafety protocols.
- To ensure that science does not suffer, it is essential to reconsider the proposal for a strong regulatory mechanism under the draft Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill.
- The Centre could explore the possibility of notifying certain sites within ICAR Centres or agriculture universities to conduct field trials of GM crops.
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