Battle over biotech

The SC must reject the biased interim report of the committee on GE crops

While hearing two writ petitions opposing genetic engineering technology in agriculture, the Supreme Court constituted a technical expert committee with six members and seven terms of reference. It asked the committee to hear interested parties and submit an interim report on open-field trials of GE crops, whether to ban them or not and what protocol should be imposed by the court if they are to be continued.

The committee submitted a confidential interim report on October 7, which soon became public and was widely covered in the media. However, the report very seriously impacts the prospects of GE crop technology in India, and was probably leaked only so that wide publicity would make it difficult for the court to reject it.

The only agricultural scientist on the technical expert committee dissociated himself, leaving five members who are biologists, but not biotechnologists, much less agricultural biotechnologists. The staunch opposition of these five to GE crop technology is well known, so it wasn't surprising that they produced a heavily biased report. But the recommendation to ban all open-field trials of GE crops for 10 years, including the ongoing trials, surpassed even the wildest dreams of the petitioners and activists. If this recommendation is accepted, it will push Indian agricultural development back by at least two decades, surpassing the damage caused by the moratorium on Bt brinjal.

The committee overshot its mandate, digressing into a range of far-reaching issues. Fourteen of the 31 people who appeared before the committee are supporters of this technology and provided information on some of these issues, but they were sidelined. The committee was indifferent to the voluminous peer-reviewed literature of some 15 years that answered their questions. Only some of these issues are addressed here.

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