Sanjay Kumar writes in Nature:
India’s long-standing push to approve genetically modified (GM) food crops has been controversially delayed, after an environmental campaigner launched a lawsuit that accuses scientists of deceiving the public about the benefits of transgenic mustard.
The claims are untrue, says Deepak Pental, a plant geneticist at the University of Delhi who has led research into the crop. “These attacks are only calculated to bring a bad name to Indian science,” he says. Other researchers are wary of pronouncing on the merits of the case, which is set for its next hearing in February. But the dispute has halted the approval of India’s first GM food crop, which had seemed imminent. No one is sure when the case will be settled, and a lack of transparency from the regulator that oversees GM-crop approvals adds further complications.
Approval of the first transgenic food crop would be a significant moment for India’s agricultural biotechnology industry, potentially paving the way for dozens of GM plants, says Trilochan Mohapatra, director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in New Delhi. The country currently permits only one GM crop, a variety of cotton that has transgenes to ward off certain insects.
In India — as in many nations — GM crops are a controversial technology. Researchers say the crops will help to feed the country’s growing population. But campaigners worry about safety and that multinational agrotechnology firms could take control of the country’s food supply. In 2010, nationwide protests saw the government bar commercial planting of what was once set to be India’s first GM food crop: an insect-resistant aubergine (brinjal). It then gave states the power to veto GM-crop trials, effectively barring field tests.