SC panel moots 10-year halt on GM crops

Opponents of the doubtfully-engineered genetically modified seeds have won a minor battle, as an expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court of India to assess the safety of GM crops has recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenics in all food crops.

A moratorium on such seeds is already in place following a decision taken by former minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, who has now been shunted to rural development.

The matter reached the apex court in May on a public interest petition filed by various anti-GM activists, including the non-governmental organisation Gene Campaign and Aruna Rodrigues, against the Union of India. The then Chief Justice of India, H N Kapadia, ordered the formation of the expert committee.

The petitioners including Rodrigues say the recommendations of the committee gain significance because it comprises independent scientists rather than bureaucrats and other interested parties.

Having already pushed through Bt cotton and rice with mixed results, the agriculture ministry headed by Sharad Pawar has been fighting hard for the introduction of Bt brinjal; a move that is strongly contested by environmentalists.

Bt food is modified with Bacillus thuringiensis, a toxic soil bacterium. The Bt gene is introduced in GM crops to fight common plant diseases, thus supposedly improving yield.