Just over a year after it cleared one set of trials for genetically modified (GM) crops, the state government has allowed five companies to conduct confined field trials on 11 transgenic varieties of rice, cotton and chickpeas. Confined trials are conducted in a restricted area under supervision to prevent the contamination of external crops by those of the GM variety .
Clearances have been given to Pioneer Overseas Corporation to conduct trials on two varieties of rice, Sungro Seeds for two varieties of chickpeas and Mahyco for two strains of cotton and rice. The BASF has been allowed to conduct trials on one rice strain and Devgen Seeds on two varieties of rice, state government sources said.
In 2013, the then state government had cleared confined field trials for genetically modified strains of rice, maize, brinjal and cotton. As many as 28 applications had been cleared from companies including Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta. Several of these trials are already on at agricultural universities in the state, officials said.
State officials said that the trials had been cleared on the basis of a report from a committee headed by eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar. Confined field trials have to be conducted within a state-owned agricultural university , under its supervision. The trials also have to follow conditions set by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee.
Permitting field trials for GM crops has long been a contentious issue. Those in favour argue that transgenic crops boost yield and food security . Opponents say they could irreversibly impact health and the environment and that trials are poorly regulated. Since 2005, a petition against GM crops is being heard in the Supreme Court.In 2012, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on GM crops had asked for a halt to field trials in different states, saying the impact of transgenic crops on bio-diversity was not yet clear.
Arun Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in a Supreme Court case against GM crops, said confined field trials are a misnomer.“There is no real distinction between confined and open field trials. Once the seed is in a field, it cannot be controlled from contaminating other species. There is no regulation of bio-safety ,“ Rodrigues said.