National Seminar on GM Crops and Food Security asks for a Biosafety Law to be enacted

 New Delhi / Ahmedabad, February 15, 2013: The 2-day national seminar on “GM Crops and Food Security” jointly organized by Jatan Trust, Gujarat Vidyapith and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh concluded in Ahmedabad today by calling for a Biosafety Law to be enacted in the country. Speakers emphasized on Biodiversity and Biosafety being key to food security of the country, whereas the current aggressive promotion of transgenic crops is jeopardizing this.

Speaking on democratizing the debate and decision-making around GM crops, Kartikeya Sarabhai of CEE (Centre for Environment Education) pointed out that debate on GM crops cannot be just about production and yields, and that the discourse around food security as well as GM crops has moved on. “The debate on GM crops is around sustainability of farm livelihoods, sustainable use of environmental resources, control over critical resources like seed resting with community, farmers and consumers having a choice, socio-cultural and ethical issues to be addressed and so on. Talking about GM crops only in the context of improving yields is inadequate and inappropriate”. He stressed upon the need for an informed debate in which all citizens should be able to engage, since this is a matter pertaining to something as fundamental as Food. He pointed out that creating a debate is not about being “anti-science”, but asking for holistic science. A multi-disciplinary approach, which includes social sciences, is needed, since this is about livelihoods and development, he stressed. He called for independent studies and said that research approvals should be conditional on making the findings public.

Earlier inaugurating the seminar, Sri Mohini Mohan Mishra, National Secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, said that in all his travels across the country and meeting farmers, he has realised that they aspire for their control over the very basic resources of farming – soil, water and seed. “In BKS, we believe that India does not need GM crops. Unfortunately, farmers have become victim of glorified propaganda of the Biotech industry. It is a pity that today non-Bt Seeds of Cotton are not available in the market”, he said.

Dr M H Mehta, former VC of Gujarath Agriculture University (GAU) and Chair of Science Ashram, speaking at the seminar, stressed on the need for focusing on economical and environmental friendly model of agriculture to feed the hungry. This will need an agro-ecological approach and not a GM crop based model. He pointed out that while science and technology need to be encouraged, any technology needs to be holistically viewed and the overall consideration of public good and wisdom must prevail.

Explaining how woefully inadequate the GM crop risk assessment is in India, Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign pointed out that our testing systems are simply not stringent enough and even the prescribed procedures are not followed by the companies or universities. Many scientific studies, including the ones conducted by the biotech companies themselves have shown adverse impacts on health and environment. In India, when the biosafety data of Bt brinjal was brought into the public domain, the inadequacy of the tests and the carelessness of the scientists doing the research, and the regulators reviewing biosafety came to the fore. This is not the way to do science, she stated.

Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, Vice Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith, presenting a fact sheet on issues related to Food Security in India, emphasized that there is enough evidence to say confidently that if land use planning is rationalized, land ownership issues are resolved, appropriate agronomical practices are introduced, nature’s own resources are used as farm inputs, the world can produce enough for the growing population.

Speaking on “Science & Technology for Food Security”, Dr Rajeswari Raina of NISTADS (National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, which is a science policy institute of CSIR) pointed out that what we need is “good science”. She explained that ‘good science’ is one that works towards economic, ecological and social progress, something that can tell us whether the existing evidence is enough or not, in terms of risk and impact assessment related to technologies like GM, in addition to giving due recognition and space to other knowledge domains and cultural values that ‘formal science’ has not studied thus far.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, said, “Transgenic technology is an unnecessary risk and costly distraction, while solutions for issues in our farming lie elsewhere. In the name of public sector research, resources are being mis-utilised, while something inherently unsafe will remain unsafe, whether it is from the private sector or the public sector”.

Dr Minoo Parabia, renowned botanist, biodiversity expert and Member of State Biodiveristy Board made a presentation on the rich biodiversity of Gujarat, including agro-diversity and expressed caution against transgenics. Dr Atul Mehta, senior rice breeder pointed out that while GM crops are being aggressively pushed, need assessment is sadly lacking, by presenting data of past 50 years to show that pest incidence (stemborer) on rice was low even though corporations are trying to push Bt rice as a solution for a problem that does not exist.

Speaking on the faulty framework of the proposed Biosafety Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA showcased how improvements in the regulatory regime over the years will be lost if BRAI Bill is allowed to be enacted. “Sustained civil society action, including judicial activism, in addition to the Bt brinjal public debate led by Mr Jairam Ramesh, the then MoEF, brought in some improvements; through the BRAI Bill, the Government of India is trying to lower the regulatory bar which is objectionable and unacceptable”, she said.

Earlier, latest scientific evidence related to adverse impacts of GM crops were shared by Rajesh Krishnan of Greenpeace India. The Seminar also had presentations from the Biotech seed industry representatives, who presented on Bt Cotton in India and GM crop adoption in other countries. Participants of the seminar also included senior scientists from agriculture universities of the state, civil society members, seed and food industry representatives, members of various farmers’ unions and government officials, in addition to Members of the State Biodiversity Board.

For more information, contact:

Kapil Shah: 094-270-54132

Sridhar Radhakrishnan: 099-953-58205

Kavitha Kuruganti: 09393001550


National Safe Food Day being celebrated throughout the country, on 3rd anniversary of Bt brinjal moratorium

Download the letter 130209 TRANSGENIC CROPS & FOOD SECURITY

(Please read this press release of the Coalition along with this letter : http://indiagminfo.org/?p=540)

New Delhi, February 9th 2013: On the 3rd anniversary of a moratorium on Bt brinjal in India, in a letter to the Minister for Environment & Forests (MoEF), more than 150 scientists from across the country pointed out that food security arguments around GM crops are baseless and fallacious, both from the scientific and global experience point of view. These scientists expressed disappointment that the MoEF, responsible for regulation of transgenics, allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to step into the Supreme Court PIL on GMOs on behalf of the Union of India. In their letter, they pointed out that Food Safety is an integral part of Food Security. Earlier in November 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture had argued in the SC that transgenic crops are essential for food security and that India’s transgenic regulatory regime was sound and robust.

The third anniversary of the moratorium on Bt brinjal, being marked as the National Safe Food Day, is witnessing dozens of events and activities around the country. Three years ago, Jairam Ramesh, the then MoEF placed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal stating that as being “responsible to science and responsive to society”.


“We urge Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister for Environment & Forests, to show the scientificity and independence that her predecessor showed in placing a moratorium on what would have been India’s first GM food crop, Bt brinjal. In fact, the situation on the regulatory front is worse than it was thought to be during the time the nation-wide public consultations led to the moratorium in 2010. The Bt brinjal moratorium decision has set a good precedence in terms of a precautionary approach. The debate then raised questions around capabilities of biosafety review in an independent and scientific manner, apart from the need for long term independent testing.

It also highlighted the much-required element of needs assessment and assessment of alternatives, before going in for the GM option, which is absent in the current system. This has been pointed out time and again, starting with the Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan in 2003, the report of which was formally accepted by Govt of India in 2004. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in its report tabled in August 2012, has captured the various nuances to the issue of transgenic food crops in great detail and had asked for a biosafety law to be brought in (instead of the BRAI Bill). The Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council (PM-SAC), listing the key characteristics of an effective regulatory system highlighted the need for sound scientific expertise within the (regulatory) organisation, through independent panels, as well as processes that ensure transparency and freedom from conflict. The Sopory Committee, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, had pointed out serious and objectionable issues with regard to our transgenic research and regulation, where crores of rupees of taxpayers’ funds have been expended. It also confirmed GM contamination. The Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court (SC TEC) also made recommendations on similar lines. It is no coincidence that so many inquiry processes are saying similar things. However, it is surprising that the Ministry of Agriculture ignores all of the above and continues with its biased and unscientific stand on GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture’s continued aggressive promotion of GM crops is unacceptable and we want the Minister for Environment & Forests to be responsive to society and responsible to science. Therefore, we expect the Environment Minister to accept the first set of recommendations by the TEC”, said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Explaining that food security is not connected with faulty techno-fixes like transgenic crops, Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India added: “The attached letter being sent by scientists from around the country to Ms Jayanti Natarajan clearly shows that non-transgenic solutions exist for increasing productivity in agriculture, if the belief is that it is a supply-side problem. However, it is important to realize that today, food security is not about food production, but poverty, livelihoods and development.

“Further, no transgenic crops have been created to increase intrinsic yield potential; as regards operational yields, it is a mixed and unimpressive picture. In the USA, it has been found that in corn, of the 28 percent increase in corn productivity between 1996 and 2008, about 24 or 25 percent was due to factors other than GE. This is about 86 percent of the total increase in yield in corn in those years. GE contributed to a mere 14% of the total yield increase between 1996 and 2008. In the case of soybean, it has been found that the herbicide tolerance gene provided no clear yield advantage, while based on USDA data, yields went up about 16 percent from 1996 – 2008, due to (conventional) breeding and agronomy.

“In India, yield growth of cotton was most impressive in the years prior to the expansion of area under Bt cotton. Yield increases are attributed to many other reasons (other than Bt technology of Bt cotton) by none other than the CICR Director (and state governments too).

“One of the most important things that the scientists’ letter highlights is that from 1995, when 12% of the US population was food insecure, America (the country with largest GM crop adoption) has moved to a situation in 2011 where 15% of the population is food insecure, the same period that they went from zero to the current level of adoption of GM crops. Brazil (the second largest grower of GM crops) continued to see a decline in its hunger profile. However, the pace of decrease has decelerated in the years when GM area expanded (Between 1999-2001 and 2004-06 (which is the pre-GM era), the percentage of undernourished in total population reduced from 12.1% to 8.7%; From then to 2010-12, it decelerated from 8.7% to 6.9%). Argentina, the third largest grower of GM crops, has seen no significant difference in its hunger situation, during the years of expansion of GM crops. Paraguay, which grows GM crops on 65% of its arable land, saw population experiencing hunger spiral up from 12.6% in 2004-06 to 25 % in 2010-12. Countries like Peru and Venezuela have on the other hand experienced tremendous improvement in their hunger situation even though they have not adopted GM crops. It is clear that GM crop adoption has not meant greater improvements in food security. GE, as several scientists have said, is a costly distraction for the solutions that we are seeking in farming. It is time that the Ministry of Agriculture became scientific in its outlook and analysis; it is also important that the MoEF does not allow itself to be misled”.

The Coalition pointed out that citizens are keen to have an informed debate on the subject and it does not help to have a unilateral view presented by the government that too using taxpayers’ funds. On National Safe Food Day, numerous events are being organized by dozens of groups across the country, ranging from public debates, to lectures, to colorful rallies, to poster exhibitions, to film screenings and safe food festivals. The coalition urges citizens to join the events nearest to them and engage with the issue of food safety. More information is available at: http://nationalsafefoodday2013.blogspot.in/

For more information, contact:

Sridhar Radhakrishnan: +91-99953-58205

Kavitha Kuruganti: +91-93930-01550

వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్-2013-14 కు రైతు స్వరాజ్య వేదిక, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం, అఖిల పక్ష రైతుసంఘాల ప్రతిపాదనలు

అనేక సంవత్సరాల పోరాటం తర్వాత, ఆంధ్ర ప్రదేశ్ రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం ప్రత్యెక వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్ ప్రవేశ పెట్టడానికి సుముఖత వ్యక్తం చేసింది.  అయితే ఈ వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్ కేవలం నిధులు కేటాయింపు గా మాత్రమే చూడకుండా, వ్యవసాయానికి దిశానిర్దేశం చేసే విధంగా వుండాలి అని కోరుతూ, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం, అఖిల పక్ష రైతు సంఘాలు, ఏ.పి. రైతు స్వరాజ్య వేదిక ఆధ్వర్యం లో చర్చించి చేసిన ప్రతిపాదనలు.

121227 AP Agricultural Budget Proposal చదవండి.

Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee Report and GM field trials

As you know, today we had a Roundtable of farmer unions and scientists on GM crops and latest Supreme Court expert committee report at Hyderabad, organized by Rythu Swarajya Vedika. I am attaching the photograph, Telugu press release, the summary of the Tech committee recommendations and summary of Parliamentary Standing Committee report. Main details in English are below.
The key participants were: Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao (former Agriculture Minister), Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu (CSA), Prof. Aldaz Janaiah (ANGRAU Agricultural University), Dr.A.Prasad Rao (AP Rytu Sangham CPM), Kirankumar Vissa (Rytu Swarajya Vedika), Ravula Venkaiah & Pasya Padma (AP Rytu Sangham CPI), Gade Diwakar (AIKMS), Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy (policy analyst), Dr.Chandrasekhar K (former Director, Extension, ANGRAU), Venugopal Reddy (Telangana Kisan Samiti).
All the participants were unanimous in supporting the recommendations of the Expert committee to impose a moratorium on field trials of GM crops. They urged the Supreme Court to accept the expert committee report, and informed that they are sending the requests in writing on behalf of respective farmer unions. They asserted that GM crops need strong regulation and testing and it is dangerous to conduct field trials before biosafety is established. They also demanded that the biosafety testing be made more meaningful with long-term and inter-generational tests, and independent testing instead of depending on company data.
They were also very vocal in condemning the false and misleading statements by the biotech industry lobby, and some so-called farmer organizations which are acting as agents of biotech industry that Indian farmers will be at a big loss if GM crops are delayed. They asserted that GM crops should not be pushed in a hurry, and they are not indispensable for food security or farmers’ welfare.

Farmers protest open air field trials of GM corn; demand an immediate ban

Supreme Court Expert committee recommends moratorium on GM Field trials
Farmers protest open air field trials of GM corn; demand an immediate ban

Kurukshetra/New Delhi, October 18, 2012: Hundreds of farmers from Bharat Kisan Union carrying banners and monster corn placards reading “Monsanto GM corn Quit India” gathered together in a peaceful protest outside the Regional Research station of Choudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University (CCHAU) at Kurukshetra today, to show their resentment towards open air field trials of genetically modified (GM) corn in the state. American multinational seed giant, Monsanto, is conducting the open field trials of its herbicide tolerant GM corn variety in the research station here. The farmer’s protest comes close to the heels of the recommendation of the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee (TEC) to put a 10 year moratorium on all field trials of GM crops in India owing to the potential risks involved.

Public opposition has been building up ever since the field trials of GM food crops like GM corn of multinational seed companies had started in the public sector research stations in the state. Various organisations under the banner of Allaince for GM free Haryana had met the state Agriculture Minister Mr Paramvir Singh last month and requested him to stop all open air field trials in the state; however the state government is yet to take any constructive step. In their submission they had pointed out that there is a growing scientific evidence on the negative impacts of GM crops on human health and environment. Concerns were also raised on the manner in which seed companies are taking control of our seed sector using their proprietary GM seeds as was seen in the case of Bt Cotton, the only commercially cultivated GM crop in India.

Addressing the gathering Gurnam Singh, Haryana State President of BKU said that “A month has passed since we met our agriculture minister but the government has failed to act on our behalf. The onus is now on us”. He urged the farmers to stand united in the fight for their farms and food free from GM contamination and corporate control and declared that BKU will not permit any more field trials happening in the state.

The field trials currently taking place in Haryana include GM corn which have bacterial genes inserted in them for giving herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. While field trials have been permitted for Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta and Dow Agro Sciences, Monsanto leads the pack with one small scale (BRL 1) of its herbicide tolerant (HT) GM corn and one large scale (BRL 2) field trial of its stacked gene GM Maize which has one bacterial gene for both herbicide tolerance and one (Bt) for insect resistance. The alliance in its letter also had pointed out that these field trials are happening in the absence of any biosafety assessments that proves their safety to human health and environment.

“It is unfortunate that Haryana is becoming the testing ground for risky GM crops which have been rejected by other states in the country” said Pankaj Bhushan, Co-Convenor, Coalition for GM Free India. Addressing the assembled farmers he further stated that “Massive opposition from all quarters in the past forced the central government to put a moratorium on Bt Brinjal 2 years ago but now the governments, both at the centre and state, are permitting back door entry of GM crops through such open field trials”.

“Experiences from the few countries that grow GM corn commercially, shows that this eventually leads to super weeds that are tolerant to these herbicides and the farmers will end up using more and more herbicides with less and less impact. What is worrisome is the recent scientific studies that points to the potency of herbicides like Monsanto’s Glyphosate(commonly called as Round Up) to cause cancer, birth defects, female hormone disruptions etc.” said Dr Ramkumar, retired Senior scientist, CCHAU. He further stated that “By promoting such GM crops, companies like Monsanto make double profits by selling its proprietary seed and its chemical herbicide”

Speaking at the occasion Sunder Lal, Chairperson, Svashaasan Mission, Khori, Haryana urged the state govt to immediately stop the field trials and opined that “Given that GM crops in general & the GM corn in particular pose a grave threat to the health of the state’s people, our food & farming the state govt. should take the side of the people and not that of biotech seed companies who have nothing but profits in their mind”.

The Technical Expert Committee set up by the Supreme Court of India in its interim report submitted to the court on Monday this week has recommended a 10 year moratorium on all field trials of GM crops. The TEC, comprising of eminent scientists in the country on the field of molecular biology and biotechnology, after doing wide spread consultations with experts said that the moratorium is necessitated by the potential harm of GM crops to human health, that of livestock and biodiversity and the possibility of field trials to contaminate our regular crops and our food supply. The concern was also because of the inadequacy of the current regulatory system to assess the safety of GM crops and its ability to safely conduct field trials.

In August this year the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture comprising of 32 members of the parliament cutting across party lines in its report on GM food crops, tabled in the Parliament had clearly recommended the ‘stopping of all field trials under any garb’ 2.

Talking to farmers about these developments Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture campaigner, Greenpeace India said that “It is unacceptable that after repeated recommendations from such credible agencies, both legislative and judicial, our government continues to permit open releases of GM crops in the country in the name of field trials” he further stated that “the Minister of Environment and Forests, Smt Jayanti Natarajan, under who sits the nodal agency for open releases of GM crops, should immediately stop all open air releases of GM crop including field trials.”

Those gathered demanded the central and state governments to stop the promotion of destructive agricultural technologies like GM crops and support ecological farming which is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. They also took a solemn pledge to keep both the state and the country free from GM crops and to take action if any open releases of GM crops are permitted in the name of experimental trials.

Notes to the Editor:

1. http://indiagminfo.org/?p=461

2. The copy of the BKU and Alliance for GM Free Haryana letter to the state govt is attached.

3. The Parliamentary Standing committee report on GM Food crops is available at

For More Information:

1. Sunder Lal, Chairperson , Svashaasan Mission, Khori – Rewari , Haryana

Mob: 8607102111, email: sunder.khori@gmail.com

2. Gurnam Singh, State President, Bharat Kisan Union, Haryana.

Mob: 9812335244 email: bkugurnamsingh@gmail.com

3. Pankaj Bhushan, Co- convenor, Coalition for GM Free India,

Mob: 09472999999 email:mail.tarafoundation@gmail.com

4. Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India,

Mob: 09845650032 email: rajesh.krishnan@greenpeace.org

5. Dr. Ram Kumar, Sustainable Agri. & Social Activist , Dulina – Jhajjar , Haryana

Mob: 09991522270 email: ramkanwardulina@gmail.com

All field trials to be stopped, unless conditions met: SC Technical Expert Committee submits interim report

“10-year Moratorium on field trials of Bt food crops, Moratorium on field trials of Herbicide Tolerant crops (till independent assessment of impact and suitability) and Ban on field trials of GM crops for which India is Centre of Origin/Diversity”

In an Interim Report signed off on 7th October 2012 (D.No.1944/2005/SC/PIL in the Assistant Registrar PIL (WRIT)’s office, dated 17th October 2012), a 5-member Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2005, with Aruna Rodrigues and others as the petitioners in a PIL pertaining to GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), unanimously presented its view that all field trials should be stopped until the following conditions have been met:

i) Specific sites for conducting field trials have been designated and certified and sufficient mechanisms for monitoring the trials put in place.
ii) A panel of scientists, qualified in evaluation of the biosafety data of GM crops has been engaged for scrutiny and analyses of the safety data.
iii) Conflict of interest in the regulatory body has been removed (as discussed above).
iv) The requirement for preliminary biosafety tests prior to field trials including sub-chronic toxicity in small animals has been included.

Importantly, the TEC recommended the following with regard to certain classes of products:

“9. Based on the current overall status of food safety evaluation of Bt transgenics including the data on Bt cotton and Bt brinjal examined by the TEAC and in accordance with the precautionary principle, the TEC recommends a ten year moratorium on field trials of Bt transgenics in all food crops (those used directly for human consumption).

10. In view of the concerns bearing on health, environmental and socio-economic considerations, the TEC recommends a moratorium on field trials of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops until an independent committee comprising of experts and stakeholders has examined and assessed the potential impact of HT technology and its suitability in the Indian context.

11. India is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol which recognises the crucial importance of biodiversity as a long term resource. The TEC accordingly recommends a ban on field trials of transgenics in those crops for which India is a centre of origin or a centre of diversity, as transgenics can contaminate and adversely affect the biodiversity.”

The TEC specifically recommended for a re-examination of all biosafety data for applications in process as well as those that have been approved for release by scientists who are qualified in biosafety science and experienced in evaluation of biosafety dossiers for transgenic plants. Citing its rationale as “given the findings of the TEC that there have been several cases of ignoring problematic aspects of the data in the safety dossiers”, the Committee recommended that the re-examination, “if necessary, be done by international experts who have the necessary experience”.

It also recommended long term and inter-generational studies in rodents to be added to the tests and performed for all products whether already approved or yet to be approved.

Further, “acute and sub-chronic feeding studies for all applications including those in progress should be completed before BRLI, as also molecular analysis and allergenicity tests. If these studies indicate potential risks of any kind, the GM event should be rejected outright to save time, resources and contamination”, the report said.

“Genome-wide expression analysis in the toxicity studies of the test organism (eg. rodent) that is being exposed helps to identify changes in biomarkers that are indicative of toxicity. This is an important test to be included as biomarkers are sensitive indicators and are capable of revealing changes before visible symptoms appear” read specific recommendation 4 of the TEC.

For BRLI and BRL II trials, ‘the regulator needs to designate and certify a defined number of sites in different parts of the country. All field trials should be carried out only at these sites. These sites should be used only for growing GM plants and not the non-GM material. Trials should not be conducted in farmers’ fields. This also applies to those trials for which permission may have previously been given by the regulator’, the TEC stated.



The Coalition for a GM-Free India welcomes this interim report from the Technical Expert Committee set up by the apex court of India and awaits the Supreme Court’s hearing on the 29th of October 2012 in the matter. While earlier inquiries and debates have been discounted by GM proponents as ‘political’, or ’emotional’, or ‘non-scientific’ inquiries and recommendations/decisions, it is worth noting that the TEC consists only of scientists, including of scientists from the government as its representatives. Further, 22 of the 31 submissions studied by the TEC in their nearly 4-month-long inquiry/study were from people with scientific background.

Meeting of Scientific Advisory Council of PM on Biotechnology and Agriculture

 With the growing amount of evidences on the problems of GM crops and the CBD  talking about liability and redress in case of damage….the meetinicg of scientific committee supports GM crops
Press Information Bureau
Government of India
Ministry of Science & Technology
09-October-2012 17:52 IST
Meeting of Scientific Advisory Council of PM on Biotechnology and Agriculture

Scientific and technological breakthroughs of a transformational nature relevant to economic and social development happen only once in a while. The emergence of such technologies evokes responses according to a pattern: initial excitement, followed by strong expression of concern and then emergence of a balanced perspective. Transformational technologies in the past, such as steam engine, electricity and other sources of energy, vaccines & immunization and internet have all followed this trend. Molecular biology and biotechnologies developed through major investments in science and technology globally have a transformational potential for benefitting agriculture and health and it is time now to evolve a balanced perspective.

The members of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) to the Prime Minister deliberated on the important issue of application of biotechnology for social and economic advancement of the country particularly in the area of agriculture. There are uncertainties in some segments of society that need to be objectively and fairly addressed. The members of the SAC are concerned that a science informed, evidence based approach is lacking in the current debate on biotechnologies for agriculture. There are some key aspects that merit consideration.

Do we need new technologies for agriculture? Indian agriculture productivity is seen by the less discerning to be adequate for today’s needs but what is ignored is that vast numbers of our countrymen are unable to consume the required food and nutrients because of difficult access. As our current efforts to address the issue of access bear fruit, the need for food and quality nutrients’ will grow rapidly. Land availability and quality, water, low productivity, drought and salinity, biotic stresses, post harvest losses are all serious concerns that will endanger our food and nutrition security with potentially serious additional affects as a result of climate change. Accordingly, strategies for agriculture in future must be based on higher yields, concomitant with reduction in resource inputs. This will require a judicious blend of traditional breeding and new technologies, non-transgenic & transgenic. This situation in developed countries such as in Europe; quite in contrast, as there is no dearth of food and a small proportion of people engage in agriculture.

The assessment of safety and efficacy of biotechnology products has to be evaluated through an appropriate regulatory system on a case by case basis, as for drugs and vaccines. In general, endorsement or opposition to a generic technology is scientifically not rational and safety and efficacy must be judged on product basis. The need for an appropriate regulatory mechanism in the country has been rightly emphasized in the Swaminathan Committee Report. The existing system based on RCGM and GEAC have given us large experience and its operational guidelines are generally sound and as per the best international norms such as guidelines by OECD. The effort now should be on effective implementation. Regulatory systems evolve with experience and review based redesign. Little is served by focusing on the flaws only.

The proposed Bill for establishment of a national Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI), 2012 is with the Parliament, it deserves to be examined on a priority basis. The key characteristics of effective regulatory system hardly need reiteration; sound scientific expertise within the organization and through independent panels, access to scientific tools for assessment of safety and efficacy and processes that ensure transparency, freedom from conflict and competence. This can only be delivered by a robust and independent system. The focus of the regulatory authority has to be on assessment of safety and efficacy. Commercialization and deployment of agriculture biotechnology products requires expertise in social and economic evaluation and post-deployment surveillance. This requires effective inputs of central and state agriculture ministries.

The experience with the deployment of Genetically Modified (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 and grown across the globe covering 160 million hectares by 2011. While each concern must be addressed through scientific approach, we believe the performance of GM crops released through oversight by regulators has been very positive. This view has been endorsed by major scientific bodies of the world. This is clearly true of our own experience with introduction of Bt Cotton in India wherein the benefits have been major. It is our view that biotechnology research and development should target important national needs, products should be developed under careful regulatory oversight and deployed in a way that access and affordability to entire farming community, particularly small and marginal farmers, is ensured.

There are other relevant issues that merit attention. Some of the opposition to GM crops in the country results from fear of domination by multinational companies. One way to address this concern is to invigorate and further strengthen the relevant scientific capacities of our institutions in public sector, universities and Indian companies. The current debate, unfortunately, is demoralizing and isolating our Scientists in the sector whose skills have been built with painstaking effort and large investment. The policy confusion will also keep the brightest away from this field of research. Our Scientists are fully aware of the social realities in this country and have widely endorsed the judicious adoption of traditional breeding with biotechnologies, non-transgenic and transgenic, as appropriate. There is concern about the costs at which seed is available to our farmers, particularly the poor farmers. This requires an appropriate public policy and action. The industry must shoulder responsibility by ensuring this through constructive dialogue with the government. Market mechanisms alone will not be sufficient.

The precautionary approach is inherently sound but it must be applied through a science based safety assessment and social and economic analysis for deployment. We make the following recommendation for kind consideration:-

1) The current regulatory system for recombinant products administered under Rules (1989) of EPA Act, 1986 should be reformed till BRAI is in place.

(i) RCGM and GEAC should be the sole authority for biosafety and bio-efficacy assessment of all recombinant products. Decision on commercial use of biotechnology produced crops should be taken by the Agriculture Ministries/Department of Central and State Governments as per existing policies and regulations on crops. For medical products Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India would approve commercialization as of now.

(ii) High Level dialogue with State governments to streamline clearances for conduct of multi-location “Confined field trials” – a scientific pre-requite in all countries for meaningful decision making on approvals or otherwise.

(iii) A Biotechnology Regulatory Secretariat with high level of scientific and technical trained manpower should be established to support RCGM and GEAC.

(iv) GEAC and RCGM should have full time Chairpersons. The Chairman of GEAC, may be of Special Secretary Status for 3 year period and RCGM one level lower. Chairman of RCGM be the Co-Chair in GEAC and not the expert nominee of Department of Biotechnology. For greater synergy at least three members should be common between RCGM and GEAC.

(v) The public needs to be informed of every decision.

2) The Bill pending with Parliament, i.e. BRAI 2012, should be debated with open mind. It would be appropriate if administrative organization could be Cabinet Secretariat because of the involvement of multiple ministries. The Bill when examined by appropriate parliament committee would be opened up for wider debate and discussions for shaping the draft legislation into a model regulatory framework.

3) The capacity for regulatory testing of new technologies in agriculture in public sector laboratories should be strengthened, supplemented with a system of notification and accreditation. This can be initiated even while the BRAI becomes a reality.

4) Research and infrastructure of state agriculture universities and colleges be strengthened for addressing the locations- specific needs of the states and regions and generate expertise.

5) Priority should be given to strengthen State Government departments and laboratories dealing with agriculture inputs, including GM or non GM seeds, extension and education of farmers through major programmes and investments for capacity building tailor made to the needs of the region.

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