PM's science advisory panel favours GM crops

It says GM crops will cover 160 mn hectares across globe by 2011

A top scientific panel of the government has favoured introduction of more genetically modified crops in the country under strict regulatory supervision because of the technology’s “transformational potential” in benefiting Indian agriculture.

The scientific advisory council of the prime minister (SAC-PM) headed by eminent scientist C N R Rao has recommended revamping the existing regulatory structure and introducing the long-pending Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in Parliament to pave the way for creating an independent authority, which will carry out the scientific risk assessment for GM crops following which states can decide on the commercialisation of the produce.

The anti-GM activists, however, cry foul. They claim that the SAC-PM ends up parroting the falsehoods propagated by the promoters of GM crops and fails to exhibit a scientific approach.

The SAC-PM, which is likely to meet later this month and submit its recommendations favouring GM crops to the prime minister, said regulatory systems (for GM crops) evolved with experience and review based redesign. "Little is served by focusing on the flaws only," it said.

“The experience with the deployment of GM crops worldwide is growing at a steady pace and should be taken into consideration. GM crops of maize, soya, potato, sugar beet, canola, cotton and alfalfa are grown across the globe covering 160 million hectares by 2011,” the panel noted.

While each concern must be addressed through scientific approach, performance of GM crops released through oversight by regulators had been very positive, a view that had been endorsed by major scientific bodies of the world,” said the 32-member SAC-PM, which advises the prime minister on science policy issues.

Contradicting the council's claims, Greenpeace said the SAC-PM did not take into account findings of a key global report that favoured sustainable farm practices like organic farming over GM crops to alleviate poverty and improve food security.

World report differs

The UN-sponsored report on International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development was a 50-year review of agricultural technologies and practices by 900 experts across the world.

The government failed to introduce the BRAI bill in Parliament twice in the last two years, despite listing it in the Lok Sabha business, owing to strong opposition from a section of MPs.

A Parliamentary standing committee on agriculture that reviewed controversies surrounding GM crops, however, was not in favour of the legislation. As the bill came from the department of biotechnology, the critics cite the bill as a clear case of conflict of interests.

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