India must adopt stricter regulation of genetically engineered crops, or face biosecurity breach

India’s seed market hides a sea of illegality, which keeps rearing its ugly head every once in a while. The discovery of genetically modified brinjal in a Haryana farmer’s field is the latest in the list of illegal seeds that have cropped up in India since 2001. That year, it was illegal Bt cotton (a genetically-modified, pest-resistant plant cotton variety); in 2009 it was illegal herbicide-tolerant (H) cotton; a few years later, it was a newer version of Bollgard cotton, or BG 3 as its locally called, and in 2017, a herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybean. All this without official approval from the regulator and enforcer of the law for genetically-engineered crops in India, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).

This situation puts the role of the GEAC (formerly Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) squarely under the scanner. An apex regulatory body, with powers to take punitive action when needed, under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), the GEAC seems to have turned a blind eye to these developments.