Time for an informed debate on GM trials

Aug 04 2014, 00:59 IST
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SummaryGM technology is a part of the package for food security

As India asserts its position globally, it must develop and use the best technologies for the benefit of Indian farmers for long-term agriculture sustainability. GM technology is safe, effective and widely used by more than 18 million farmers around the world while global biotech crop plantings mark 18 years of continued growth. In that context, the opposition to GM is not justified.

A written biotech policy of the government of India, drafted by a committee headed by MS Swaminathan ten years ago, clearly supports the use of GM technology in all crops including food crops. The only exception made was basmati rice. There was no other ban on the use of this technology in the policy document. Since 2010, there is a wide gap between the policy and the implementation, which has caused uncertainty in technology deployment and investments, and has put further scientific work in jeopardy.

The government spends thousands of crores of rupees every year including ongoing work in public institutions on GM technology. If the policy and the government investments are pointing to one direction and the implementation is pointing to another, what message are we giving to the researchers, investors, corporates and even biotech students who are pursuing this technology? There is a complete demoralisation in the ranks of all these sections of society. If we are we talking about scrapping genetic modification or applying biotechnology in agriculture, then it would be death knell for education, research and commerce in this field, which goes contrary to our biotech policy.

This is also in contradiction to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned in his recent speech to agricultural scientists on the occasion of the 86th foundation day of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), where he stressed on the need to disseminate technologies to farmers in a simple manner and make “per drop, more crop”. Quoting Modi, “We have to find ways to produce more on less land and in less time without any quality erosion.”

There are many technological traits available in the GM space which could be of great use to India in the coming years in its effort to fight drought, salinity, high fertiliser subsidy, improving agricultural productivity and so on. The country is going to face serious shortage of pulses and oilseeds in the next 10-15 years as we try to meet the changing food habits of our increasing population.

We are also going to see a

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