India cannot totally depend on the public sector for development of genetically modified (GM) products to feed its large population, said noted crop scientist Swapan Datta, stressing that the private companies have to play a role.
Datta, an eminent scientist associated with the Golden Rice project and former deputy director general (crop sciences) at the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, vouched for public-private partnership for joint development and ownership of GM food crop products.
"The government needs to take a long term vision for a practical solution. Big questions will be asked if private players come into the picture but participation of indigenous private sector is needed to encourage the GM crop regime in the country," Datta, the current pro vice chancellor of Visva Bharati University, said here during a media workshop "Communicating Science and Biosafety" on Thursday.
The workshop was organised by Indian Institute of Mass Communication in collaboration with University of Calcutta's department of journalism and mass communication.
Debunking myths about potential harmful effects of GM crops, such as Bt Brinjal, which was commercially released in Bangladesh recently, Datta said: "China is doing it (commercializing GM crops) as we debate and discuss."
Since GM products are almost entirely from multinational companies because Indian seed companies are smaller in terms of their R&D expenditure, this also affects public confidence, particularly among farmers, he said.
"When China realized the value of the application of biotechnology and GM foods, they started putting in money like anything... they put in around $2 to 3 billion a year in transgenic work. China wants to compete with multinationals with work but India wants to compete with multinationals without work. That's the fundamental difference," he said.
As an example of deadlocks, Datta cited the case of Bt Brinjal.
In India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had approved commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal in 2009, but the then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, put an indefinite moratorium on the decision.
"For 100 years no adverse effects of Bt gene have been found scientifically but still we are wasting taxpayers's money on monitoring and conducting safety studies," said Datta, who was a member of the GEAC that pushed for introduction of Bt Brinjal.
Currently, Bt cotton is the only GM crop allowed for commercial production in India.