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Scientists oppose TECs recommendations on biotech moratorium

SCI in its initial recommendations suggested blanket ban of 10 years on field trials of transgenic food crops

Dilip Kumar Jha  |  Mumbai 

The moratorium on the field trials and commercialization of transgenic crops could harm Indian farmers the most as they need to raise production of foodgrains in tune with growing population with reduced availability of fertile land, scientists said.

The Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India (SCI) has in its initial recommendations suggested a blanket ban of 10 years on field trials of transgenic food crops and field trials of transgenics in those crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity.

Prof C Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary, the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), Bangalore, said, “The Indian farmers have to produce enough to meet the needs of growing population, without enlarging arable land or irrigation facilities in a fast changing climate. Such interventions as GM technology will play a crucial role in providing the necessary means to enable farmers to produce more using fewer resources.”

“The TEC claims to have consulted various scientists, experts, NGOs etc., but the report submitted to the Supreme Court seems to rely entirely on the views of a select group of scientists and activists who oppose agribiotech, ignoring all the others,” Rao added.

Eminent biotechnologists, agricultural scientists and heads of agribiotech-industry came together against the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India (SCI), to address certain issues related to agricultural biotechnology.

Scientists, including Prof G Padmanabhan, the former Director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and a celebrated biologist, Dr KK Narayanan, Managing Director, Meta-Helix Life Sciences Ltd., Bangalore, Dr TM Manjunath, a well known agricultural biotechnologist, Dr M Mahadevappa, former Vice Chancellor, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, and the Chairman of the Agricultural Service Recruitment Board, Government of India, and others reiterated that the TEC overshot its mandate and made many sweeping recommendations on diverse issues without taking into account the scientific rigour of the methods used in India which are similar to those in the most advanced countries.

The scientists were speaking at a forum organized by the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), Bangalore.
The scientists have beseeched the SCI to reject TEC’s  interim report and to constitute a well-balanced committee, if at all that is necessary, to re-examine all the issues raised in the interim report, in consultation with scientists with hands on experience in agricultural biotechnology from both public and private sectors.

“I am here to express my solidarity with scientists and support to biotechnology. Innovations happen only through research and experimentation. No one has a right to ban research and experimentation. Those who oppose scientific research are not intellectually right and would take the country on a wrong path. Science and technology have done a lot to the country,” said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon Ltd.

She also tweeted about it saying, “The expected SC ruling on banning research on GM Crops will be the saddest day for Indian Scientists. This is morally n intellectually wrong.”

Perceiving a grim picture, the scientists said that the recommendations of the TEC take India in the opposite direction, halting the progress required to cater to the growing needs of the country. They also have a far reaching adverse impact, denying Indian farmers the benefits of technology and will seriously affect education, training, research and development in this area both in private and public sectors. Modern agricultural biotechnology is the single major means to increase food production, and provides a tremendous opportunity to enhance productivity.

“TEC’s dismissal of biosafety data on Bt cotton and the recommendation to ban all field trials of all biotech crops for 10 years is harsh and has no valid scientific basis.  Bt has been extensively used 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) and has not caused any adverse effects,” said Dr TM Manjunath, Former Director, IISc.

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First Published: Mon, October 29 2012. 13:56 IST