SC agreeing to an inquiry into ‘compelling reasons’ for allowing GM crops does not augur well for agriculture
Published Date – 12:25 AM, Mon – 5 December 22
Science alone should guide the policies on adoption of new crop technologies. Unfortunately, in India, the public discourse on genetically modified technologies is often clouded by politics, delusional activism and fear-mongering. Matters that must be decided by evidence-based science are often hijacked by alarmist ideologies that manufacture fear to block introduction of new technologies. Even after the country’s biotech regulator has cleared the introduction of genetically modified mustard after prolonged scrutiny, the matter has been pushed into litigation now. It would have been prudent if the Supreme Court kept itself away from scrutinising the issue of GM mustard. The apex court agreeing to an inquiry into “compelling reasons” for allowing GM crops does not augur well for the well-established policy of using modern technologies to improve crop production and productivity. The government has already examined the matter thoroughly at different levels based on hard scientific data. Climate change will require the development of seeds that can withstand the vagaries of temperature and precipitation. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has approved the GM mustard, developed by Delhi University, and recommended its release into the market. The government should not lose an opportunity to take the benefits of science to the farmers. There should be no dilly-dallying on the matter because the country’s agriculture sector cannot prosper without science and technology. The introduction of GM mustard will serve the public interest at multiple levels. India imports 60% of its edible oil needs, amounting to $19 billion annually, and a fraction of this is GM soya bean oil.
The transgenic mustard has the potential to be a game-changer for India in terms of boosting production and productivity of the oilseed and reducing dependence on the import of edible oil. Both consumers of this GM oil and exporter countries growing this crop have faced no problems whatsoever. The ICAR trials show that GM mustard’s yields are 28% higher than the domestic variety. The GM mustard would not need additional inputs of water, fertilizers or pesticides, thereby translating into more yield at a lower cost. It is also the result of publicly funded R&D, debunking the usual conspiracy theories. Since India is looking to increase oilseeds output under its Aatmanirbhar campaign, promoting GM mustard will go a long way in furthering this cause. The approvals for GM crops follow multiple studies proving their safety and efficacy and stringent government scrutiny. While there still exists ideological or political opposition to GM foods in some quarters, courts are certainly not the forums to resolve such debates. The executive must be able to formulate policies on such matters without being hassled by unnecessary litigation. In 2004, India allowed commercial cultivation of GM cotton, a non-food crop. Its rapid adoption has helped the country to move from a net importer to a large exporter. This can be replicated in oilseeds as well.