India’s agriculture at crossroads amidst environmental caution and technological innovation

By TNI TeamonJan. 11, 2024in Environment and Ecology

The Supreme Court’s role in ensuring a robust bio-safety test protocol and a comprehensive examination of the legal and scientific aspects of GM crops is pivotal.

In the realm of agriculture, the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops has sparked a contentious debate globally. The recent spotlight on the genetically modified mustard hybrid, DMH-11, in India has brought to the forefront the need for a stringent and transparent bio-safety test protocol before releasing such crops into the environment.

Genetically modified crops, engineered to possess specific traits or characteristics, have been developed to enhance resistance to pests, diseases, and herbicides, improving nutritional content, or increasing yield. In India, the transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11 has become a focal point of discussion, with the Centre advocating for its commercial cultivation to boost agricultural output and reduce dependence on edible oil imports.

The Supreme Court’s scrutiny of this matter, which has been pending since 2004, underscores the critical importance of a robust bio-safety test protocol. The court rightly questions the prolonged delay in addressing this issue, emphasizing the need for comprehensive examination and evaluation. Various petitions, including those by Gene Campaign, Aruna Rodrigues, and the Research Foundation for Science and Technology, have highlighted concerns about the potential risks associated with GM crops, urging the court to consider the implications thoroughly.

The bio-safety test protocol, a set of procedures and guidelines assessing the potential risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on human health and the environment, is crucial to ensure a systematic evaluation before releasing these crops into the ecosystem. The protocol typically includes toxicity studies, allergenicity assessments, and environmental impact assessments, aiming to minimize potential harm.

The GM Mustard case, currently before the Supreme Court, adds a layer of complexity with the retirement of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, who initially presided over the hearings. The pending application to withdraw the undertaking related to GM mustard raises questions about the Centre’s stance on the matter. The court’s approach, seeking an overview of the main issues and expressing a desire to avoid ad-hoc decisions, indicates a commitment to a thorough examination of the legal and scientific aspects involved.

The role of the Technical Expert Committee, formed in 2012 to assess the restrictions on open field trials of GMOs, underscores the need for expert input in navigating the complexities of genetically modified organisms. The committee’s concerns about open field trials and potential risks associated with GMOs add weight to the ongoing debate.

However, the Centre’s eagerness to proceed with the cultivation of DMH-11 is evident, citing the crop’s potential to address agricultural challenges and enhance self-sufficiency in edible oil production. The court’s concerns about irreversible environmental damage caution against hastily allowing the release of GM crops into the environment without a thorough understanding of the potential consequences.

Mustard’s significance as a vital crop for edible oil and seed meal in India adds economic dimensions to the debate. The Centre’s argument that developing indigenous transgenic varieties like DMH-11 could boost agricultural output and improve farmer incomes emphasizes the potential benefits of GM technology.

The GM Mustard dilemma represents a delicate balance between agricultural innovation and environmental caution. The Supreme Court’s role in ensuring a robust bio-safety test protocol and a comprehensive examination of the legal and scientific aspects of GM crops is pivotal. As India navigates this complex terrain, it must weigh the potential benefits of GM technology against the need to safeguard the environment and human health. The GM Mustard case stands as a testament to the evolving discourse on genetically modified crops and the imperative of informed decision-making in shaping the future of agriculture in the country.

First Published by The New Indian on 10 January, 2024.

Story Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply