Battle lines harden over GM crops

New Delhi, Feb. 8: The biotechnology industry and an environmental group have hardened battle lines over the future of genetically modified food crops in India on the third anniversary of the indefinite moratorium on GM brinjal imposed by former environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

The agricultural group of the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) today said it was “disappointed over the continued delay” on GM brinjal, and warned the government’s “indecisiveness” was making it difficult for the industry to continue investing in research.

The agricultural focus group of ABLE has urged the Union government to end the moratorium on GM brinjal to draw benefits from crop biotechnology.

Sections of scientists believe India will need to quickly adopt GM crops to boost production despite land shortages and climate and environmental stresses.

But an environmental group campaigning against GM crops said there was substantial evidence from several countries to suggest that the adoption of GM crops “has not meant greater improvements in food security”.

The group that calls itself the Coalition for a GM-free India said multiple factors influenced food security and figures from many countries suggested there was little correlation between GM crops and food security.

“Argentina is the third-largest grower of GM crops but has seen no significant difference in its hunger situation during its years of expanding GM crops,” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convenor of the coalition.

“While Brazil, the second-largest grower of GM crops, shows a decline in hunger, the pace of this decrease has decelerated during the years when area under GM crops expanded,” he added.

But crop biotechnologists say there is ample evidence GM crops have benefited both farmers and nations. “(GM) cotton has completely transformed India’s cotton industry,” said Seetharama Nadoor, executive director of ABLE’s focus group on agriculture.

“(GM) cotton has been one of the most rapidly adopted crops in the country, a great example of the potential. If we are to become globally competitive in agriculture, predictable regulatory frameworks that support research and timely approvals are critical,” Nadoor said in a statement today.

Ramesh had on February 9, 2010, imposed an indefinite moratorium on the release of GM brinjal after examining documents submitted by sections of the industry as well as several scientists who had urged caution and sought more rigorous evaluation of GM food crops before their release.

But sections of the biotechnology industry have consistently argued the decision to impose the moratorium was “not based on science”.

In October last year, the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister had released a statement that seemed to question the moratorium imposed on GM brinjal.

The council had said India would need to adopt a “judicious blend” of traditional breeding and GM technology to combat land shortages, low productivity, drought and post-harvest losses.