‘Approve norms for gene-edited plants without delay’
With an “inordinate delay” in pronouncing safety norms for gene-edited plants delaying research, a group of pro-biotechnology intellectuals and scientists have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern over the undue delay.
Seeking his attention to hasten the process, the India Agriculture Advancement Group (IAAG) International said that the Draft Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome and Gene-Edited Plants were already reviewed by an expert committee constituted by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
They were later endorsed by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) before it was forwarded to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
The GEAC, which works under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, is the nodal agency for giving approvals to agribiotech companies for agri biotechnology trials.
They argue that the genome-editing plants under the category that are in question do not require any regulatory trials as these are similar to other varieties and hybrids bred through conventional plant breeding.
“Sufficient scientific rigour has been applied to the formulation and endorsement of these guidelines for use across the country. The GEAC should have taken the final decision strictly on the basis of scientific merit of the submission,” they said in the letter.
Instead of approving the guidelines, the GEAC has sent the draft to the States and Union Territories (UTs), seeking their comments on the exemption of the biosafety trials for genome-edited plants.
This, they argued, will delay the process further. They are worried that this could lead to confusion and ‘wrong precedence’.
“Gene editing can have profound impact on global agriculture through rapid development of crop varieties with diverse desirable traits,” R S Paroda, the Founder-Chairman of Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS), said.
Early approval norms
They felt that the GEAC and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change need to provide an early approval of the guidelines to enjoy the benefits of gene-edited technology.
The signatories included RB Singh, Gurdev Khush, G Padmanabhan, Deepak Pental, K L Chadda and Prabhakar Tamboli.
The issue assumes significance in the wake of no new genetically-modified variety being released for over a decade now.
Though a moratorium imposed by the Supreme Court after the controversy over Bt brinjal got over in 2019, no progress has been made yet.
Growers in States such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana are demanding access to new crop technology, including GM.