Confined trials of GM cotton, maize get state, Centre nod
The GM Cotton seed trial will evaluate its resistance to bollworm and tobacco cutworm while the maize trial will look into its resistance to the fall armyworm
A proposal to conduct confined field trials of genetically modified (GM) and herbicide-tolerant cotton and maize seeds at two universities of agricultural sciences (UAS) in Karnataka has been cleared by the state and the Centre. The approval comes amid opposition from farmers and activists, who have expressed concerns over the impact of such crops on the environment and the indigenous seed culture.
Following a no-objection certificate (NoC) by the Karnataka government, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change cleared the proposal by Rallis India Limited, Bengaluru. Completion of confined field trials will help companies move a step closer to the commercial marketing of the seeds.
The company has been allowed to conduct trials at UAS, Raichur and Dharwad for two years from 2022-23 to 2023-24. “The decision on NoC was taken by a high-level committee headed by the chief secretary and comprising experts. Heads of the agriculture universities who took part in the programme favoured the trials,” a member of the committee told DH.
The GM Cotton seed trial will evaluate its resistance to bollworm and tobacco cutworm while the maize trial will look into its resistance to the fall armyworm. Both trials involve the use of glyphosate, a widely used weed killer known for harming biodiversity.
GEAC recommended the proposal with several conditions, from the selection of trial site to the amount of glyphosate to be used.
Dharwad UAS Vice Chancellor K N Kattimani said there won’t be any negative impact on farmers. “The varsity’s board decides on all the projects. At no stage will the farmers’ interest be compromised,” he assured.
Kavita Kuruganti, founder and convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said Karnataka’s decision was an unfortunate step. “Being one of the first states to come up with an organic farming policy, Karnataka shouldn’t shouldn’t have issued an NoC.
The state is now bringing risk into its agricultural system. It should be noted that both the crops are herbicide-tolerant. Glyphosate has been proven to be harmful to the environment. We demand Karnataka to revoke the NoC,” she said.
A senior faculty at UAS, Raichur said the confined field trials have strict rules. “It will be done in a piece of land usually not more than half an acre, under the control of the university. Scientists will monitor the entire trial strictly and submit reports,” he said.
Agro economist and former Agriculture Price Commission chairman T N Prakash Kammaradi said GM crops are the Trojan horses used by companies to establish dominance in the market at the cost of local and indigenous seeds. “The example of Bt cotton wiping out indigenous and hybrid seeds is still fresh. Moreover, once the seeds are sold commercially, can the government control the amount of herbicide sprayed by farmers,” he asked.
The senior faculty acknowledged the problems. “In fact, one of the members on the committee pointed out that we are yet to exploit all hybrid varieties. However, pest-resistance has become a trump card for GM crops,” he added.