The Swadeshi Jagran Manch cannot be faulted when it questions the decision of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to give clearance for the field trials of some genetically-modified (GM) crops. The authority, under the environment ministry, has approved the field trials of rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. The Manch is on strong grounds when it questions the decision on the basis of the BJP’s election manifesto. The manifesto has inter alia promised “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers”. It is an unambiguous, firm commitment.
Neither the government nor the GEAC has disclosed the findings of the “scientific evaluation”. It is not even known who did the evaluation and when. Given the misgivings the farmers and experts have on GM foods, the government should have no hesitation at all on taking all the stakeholders into confidence. Incidentally, the Supreme Court had cautioned the government against taking any hasty decision on the subject as fear existed that GM crops would adversely affect the health of the people and the soil. Yet, it was surprising that at the fag end of the UPA government’s tenure it lifted the moratorium on GM crops. Many suspected the government of succumbing to pressures from multinational companies.
The advice for caution, from the apex court or from environmental experts, should not be seen as against experiments in agriculture that advance the goals of developing plant varieties that can withstand drought, resist pests and raise yields to feed the growing world population. In fact, the need for another green revolution cannot be overemphasised. Though we have record food grains production yet the share of agriculture in the GDP has gone down. The Modi government must take steps for modernisation of agriculture but should do so with caution and after adequate scientific verification. It must first put in place a strong regulatory mechanism for biotechnological research which is free of ethical conflicts and which addresses the concerns of all the stakeholders.