Far from resolved
March 19, 2014
Environment Minister Veerappa Moily’s decision to allow field trials of genetically modified food crops marks a major shift in official policy on a highly contentious issue. That he would make a departure from the stand adopted by his two immediate predecessors was clear from his replies to questions in Parliament: a week before the formal announcement, Mr. Moily told the Rajya Sabha that field trials were necessary to generate biosafety data, and a common affidavit covering various Ministries would be filed by the government in the Supreme Court, which is considering the issue of allowing trials. Governments the world over have been torn between passionate, unreasoning opposition from activists and the callous push and greed of seed companies. Since these modified plant species are of relatively recent origin, data on biosafety are still not accepted as conclusive or comprehensive. The question of their superiority over hybrids is also a matter of debate. From the farmers’ perspective, there is fear of commercial monopolies in agriculture — wherever GM crops are linked to intellectual property rights or commercial contracts, restrictions on use and the prospect of litigation come into play. This is an important dimension in India, which has a large number of small farms. Moreover, the GM foods industry claims transgenic plant varieties are safe on the one hand, but fiercely opposes labelling of products as such.