Agri industry concerned over proposed ban on field trials

Eminent biotechnologists, agriculture scientists and agribiotech industry heads came together on Saturday to stand up against the recommendations made in the interim report to be submitted by the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) constituted by the Supreme Court.

The TEC interim report recommends ban on all field trials for 10 years, including the ongoing ones and also raises concerns about the safety aspects of the genetically modified (GM) crops.

This report that has been leaked, contains some points that are decisive for the future of the agribiotech field and in turn the country, said the experts. They said that the report does not take into account the methods used in India which are comparable to those used in the most advanced countries. They also signed a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister requesting him to intervene and save the situation.

Biocon India Chairperson, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said, “No one has the right to ban research. We as a society need to be data- and scientifically driven.”

The speakers also raised the example of Bt cotton, that has brought about much progress in society. “India used to import cotton but now we export cotton and Bt cotton makes up a major chunk of this,” said former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Prof G Padmanabhan.

With the advancement of GM crops the market for  pesticide companies will go down significantly. The dealers and conventional seed companies will also suffer losses.

Instead of considering GM crops as a group, the speakers said decisions must be made depending on individual cases. GM crops as a whole should not be shunned as they can be very beneficial to both farmers as well as consumers.

If the recommendations are accepted by the Supreme Court it would affect the farmers
the most. Elaborating the point, Executive Secretary of Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Prof C Kameswara Rao said, “Interventions such as the GM technology will play a crucial role in enabling farmers to produce more using fewer resources to meet the needs of the growing population without expanding arable land or irrigation facilities.”

They said that developed countries like Canada and US, developing countries like China and several South American countries have been growing GM crops for decades.
Managing Director, Meta Helix Life Sciences Ltd, Dr K K Narayanan said, “If these recommendations are accepted then it will be a major setback for Indian agriculture. It will needlessly deny the opportunity to mitigate the sufferings of farmers.”

A well known agricultural biotechnologist, Dr T M Manjunath said, “Bt has been used extensively without any adverse effects as various spray formulations to control a variety of insect pests for over 50 years in many countries and in transgenic crops for over 16 years (10 years in India).”

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