The Supreme Court has reserved its order on pleas seeking moratorium on release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.
After hearing submissions from Attorney General R Venkataramani, Solicior General Tushar Mehta and advocates Prashant Bhushan and senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, a bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Sanjay Karol directed the parties to file written submissions by January 22.
The top court had observed that the issue of genetically modified crops is very technical and scientific and said it will decide a plea on environmental release of GM mustard on the basis of what is good for the country.
The apex court had earlier questioned the Centre as to why reports of the court-appointed Technical Experts Committee (TEC) on biosafety of genetically modified (GM) crops were not looked into by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
It asked the Attorney General, appearing for the Centre, whether the GEAC or a sub-committee of experts ever considered the reports filed by TEC before the October 25, 2022 decision to approve the environmental release of transgenic mustard hybrid DMH-11.
The attorney general had said that GEAC being a statutory body, it is not supposed to go into these reports but has considered every relevant scientific finding before giving the go-ahead for the environmental release.
Appearing for the Centre, the Solicitor General made a strong case for growing genetically modified (GM) crops for enhanced food security.
Mehta said India is already importing huge quantities of edible oil extracted from genetically altered oilseeds for domestic consumption and "unfounded fears" of their adverse impact is hurting farmers, consumers and industry.
The law officer informed the court that approximately 55-60 per cent of edible oil consumed in India is imported.
The solicitor general said India is importing and consuming large quantities of edible oil extracted from GM oilseeds.
"India imports about 55,000 tonnes of canola oil largely from GM canola seeds. Similarly, nearly 2.8 lakh tonnes of soybean oil is being imported annually, largely comprising GM soybean oil. Most exporting countries like Argentina, the US, Brazil and Canada cultivate GM soybean. Globally, around 80 per cent of soybean growing is GM soybean.
"As India is importing and consuming oil derived from GM crops, opposition to such technology based on such unfounded fears of adverse impact is only hurting farmers, consumers and industry," he asserted.
The top court is hearing separate pleas by activist Aruna Rodrigues and NGO 'Gene Campaign' seeking a moratorium on the release of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment pending a comprehensive, transparent and rigorous biosafety protocol in public domain conducted by independent expert bodies.
India has seen a robust debate on GM crops in the last two decades. When Rural Voice
approached scientists for comments, they said the locally developed genetically modified (GM) mustard variety will help India boost crop yields of one of the main oilseeds and cut vegetable oil imports that cost billions of dollars a year.
They said the GEAC has approved GM mustard seeds after a lengthy, foolproof trial and the new variety is safe for the soil, the environment and human health.
Biotechnology regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), had recommended the environmental release of GM mustard seeds for trials, demonstrations and seed productions October 18, 2022.