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Govt allows genome edited plants, activists, academics divided over move

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New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) The government has allowed genome-edited plants for regulation with the exemption of Site Directed Nuclease (SDN) 1 and 2 genomes with no foreign DNA, a move that has drawn mixed reactions from academia and activists.

In an office memorandum, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had on Wednesday invoked relevant sections of the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganism/ Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells Rules 1989 and claimed that it empowers the Ministry to exempt any particular micro-organism/genetically engineered organism.

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The OM has not just exempted SDN 1 & 2 but does so bypassing the lengthy GMO regulation as monitored by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC). The genome edited plants would be now treated as any other plants.

“The process of genome-edited plants to be carried out under containment until free from exogenous introduced DNA will be regulated by the institutional BioSafety Committee following guidelines issued by the central government under information to the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation,” it said.

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The Ministry also said that the step was taken as the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Department of Agriculture, Research and Education, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare had recommended that the SDN 1 and SDN 2 genome edited products, free from exogenous introduced DNA be exempted from bio safety assessment in pursuance of the relevant rules.

The difference between genetically modified and genome editing is that the latter is a precise technology with unintended side effects.

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“Now, saying that there is no foreign DNA is a specious argument. The point is, you have introduced an aggressive intervention in a natural process,” said Suman Sahay of Gene Campaign, an organisaiton that has been opposing GM/Bt seeds.

Kavitha Kuruganti of the ‘Coalition for a GM-Free India’ said that the Coalition had pointed out earlier that categorisation of genome-edited products by risk categorisation of the end product is a wrong approach. It is contradictory to the legal definition of Generic Engineering and Gene Technology as given in the EPA 1989 Rules and also defies scientific knowledge about process-related risks and “that is exactly what they are proposing now”.

However, Rajeev Varshney, Agricultural/Genomics Scientist and Director, SABC, Director CC&FI, Intl Chair Agri & Food Security at the Murdoch University, Australia took to Twitter to welcome the move. “A landmark decision of government of India – ‘Exemption of the genome edited plants falling under categories of SD1 and SDN2 from the provisions the Rules, 1989’ i.e. not to be considered as GM plants. Many thanks.”

Sahay, however, said the research should continue with cautious screening and “the regulation must continue to ensure safety of technology”.

–IANS

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