The environment ministry is set to convene this month a “special meeting” of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) to decide on field-trial approvals for the controversial transgenic mustard developed by the University of Delhi’s Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP).
About Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee:
- The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was constituted under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) as the apex body under the ‘Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989’ in accordance
with the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
- GEAC is country’s apex regulator of transgenic products.
- It is the organisation engaged in the appraisal of activities that involve the large-scale usage of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in industrial production as well as research from an environmental point of view.
- Its mandate is to ensure that only safe and environmentally harmless activities are done. The organisation also appraises proposals related to the release of genetically-engineered organisms and products into the environment, including experimental field trials.
- The ministry’s Special Secretary/Additional Secretary is the Chairman of the GEAC.
- It is co-chaired by a representative of the Department of Biotechnology.
- Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee Functions:
- To appraise activities involving large scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
- To appraise proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
- The committee or any persons authorized by it has powers to take punitive action under the Environment Protection Act.
- The CGMCP team had proposed to use endosulfan — a banned pesticide — as part of their experiment.
- The trial protocols had also been submitted just three days before the GEAC meeting and some members had voiced objections over the lack of time to examine the field safety protocol. The field safety protocol specifies what measures can be undertaken in case there’s a pest attack on the mustard being tested.
- Environmentalists, farmer groups and some scientists argue that transgenic mustard poses several environmental and health risks. Included among these is a contention that it contains a foreign gene from another species, that tests so far have failed to show any appreciable gains in yield over traditional varieties and that it could, if
commercially approved, make farmers growing the GM mustard dependent on glyphosate — a weedicide that has been linked to cancer.