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Concerns in India about delay approval of gene-editing guidelines

India Agriculture Advancement Group (IAAG) International writes to the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, expressing serious concern on the inordinate delay in the approval of Draft Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Genome/Gene-Edited Plants by Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC).

The Draft Guidelines were reviewed by an expert committee constituted by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and subsequently endorsed by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) before it was forwarded to GEAC for approval. Therefore, scientific rigor has been applied to the formulation and endorsement of these guidelines for use across the country. GEAC should have taken the final decision strictly on the basis of the scientific merit of the submission. Rather, the Draft Guidelines were sent to the States and Union Territories (UTs) seeking their comments on the exemption of the biosafety trials stipulated for the GM crops for SDN1 and SDN2 categories of genome-edited plants which will delay the process further.

According to Dr. Ramesh Deshpande, Convener, IAAG International, “the MoEF&CC’s communication to the States and UTs on the matter is likely to create confusion and wrong precedence. Genome-editing plants under the SDN1 and SDN2 category do not require any regulatory trials as these are similar to other varieties and hybrids bred through conventional plant breeding.”

Positive effects of gene editing
According to Dr. RS Paroda, the Founder Chairman of Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS), and a Padma Bhushan awardee, “gene editing can have a profound impact on global agriculture through the rapid development of crop varieties with diverse desirable traits. Enhancement in productivity, the nutritional quality of products, and climate adaptation, ensures the sustainability of production systems and nutritional security for the underprivileged. Outreach and effective communication strategy for much-needed public perception are critical to reaping the benefits of genome-edited products. All stakeholders including government, public and private industry now need to work on the next step of educating the public about the technology before it is open for public consultation, because only then can an informed and unbiased decision be made.”

GEAC and MoEF & CC need to provide an early approval of the guidelines so that the country can begin to harness the benefits of gene-edited technology that has a great potential for scientific advances for ensuring nutritional and food security. To achieve the zero-hunger challenge of the United Nations, and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, especially SDG 1 and SDG 2 (eliminating poverty and hunger, respectively), we must significantly enhance the small farm productivity and double farmers’ income. Such a transformation will be possible only through the intelligent and intensive applications of new technologies and innovations such as genome editing.

The other signatories to the letter included eminent agricultural scientists Padmabhushan Awardee Dr. RB Singh, Padmashri Awardees Dr. Gurdev Khush, and Dr. G. Padmanabhan. Among the others were Dr. Deepak Pental, Dr. KL Chadda, Dr. Prabhakar Tamboli, Dr. Jitendra Srivastava, Dr. HS Gupta, and Dr. Malvika Dadlani.

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