The Central Information Commission (CIC) on 1 April 2016 directed the GEAC to make public the non-confidential bio-safety information on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
The direction is aimed at enhancing transparency in the regulatory approval process and applicable to all GMOs in the pipeline including GM mustard variety - DMH11.
As per the direction, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body for GMOs, has to keep all the relevant data in the public domain by 30 April 2016.
However, the disclosure of intellectual property data was exempted.
Why the direction was given?
• The Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) of Delhi University has been developing GM Mustard variety - DMH11 - for few years.
• In 2014 and 2015, the crop developer submitted two separate dossiers to the GEAC seeking permission to conduct field trials.
• Opposing regulatory approval to GM mustard, the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture requested the authorities for a copy of the bio-safety dossier under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
• The petitioners contended that the GM seeds so produced aren’t substantially better than existing mustard varieties and that seed developers and biotechnology regulators have colluded to “push” DMH11.
• However, the authorities refused to provide the information saying such information will breach the commercial confidence of the CGMCP.
• Contending this stand, the petitioners approached the Central Information Commission for redressal.
What are Genetically Modified Organisms?
• GMOs can be defined as organisms like plants, animals or microorganisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.
• GM foods are produced – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods.
• This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both.
• However, the GMOs attracted much criticism on various grounds including environment, public health, cost-benefit analysis, technological hurdles, monopoly of multinational companies, etc.
• Though the hybrid varieties are generally known to produce greater yields but they necessitate farmers to keep going to seed companies every year to buy fresh seed.
• About DMH11: It has been developed by Deepak Pental, a geneticist at the Delhi University, with support from the National Dairy Development Board and the Department of Biotechnology.
• The technology involves using a complex of genes, sourced from soil bacterium, which makes it easier for seed developers to easily develop hybrid varieties of mustard, generally a self pollinating plant.
• This new variety is expected to contribute to increasing yields of up to 25 percent compared to existing varieties.
Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee
• It is India’s apex regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
• It looks after approval of activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
• It is also responsible for approval of proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
• At present, GM cotton is the only GM crop commercially available in farmer fields.
• Since its introduction in India in 2002, it is grown in such quantities that India is the world’s fourth-biggest GM-crop producer, behind the United States, Brazil and Argentina.
• In July 2014, it gave the green signal for field trials of GM rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal.
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What: To be made public