Opposition to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in India was hijacked first by leftist, then neo-leftist and now by far right, and in the bargain India will be left way behind, warned genetics scientist Deepak Pental at a session at the 102nd Indian Science Congress on Monday.
“The previous Prime Minister was for biotechnology, but did not get his way. The new PM is also for the technology. But he will have to tackle opposition from right wing groups,” said Pental at a session ‘GM crops: The use of modern biotechnology in agriculture’ that saw a packed Shankarrao Chavan auditorium. “If the country self-inflicts injury, we will be left way behind and depend only on transnational corporations who have deep pockets.”
Scientists called for removal of policy hurdles to facilitate widespread use of genetically modified (GM) crops technology. Controversy over the introduction of GM crops goes back to more than a decade when the government approved GM cotton (Bacillus Thuringiensis or BT cotton) by Monsanto despite opposition from civil society on issues of soil contamination, impact on human and animal health as well as biodiversity.
In 2010, anti-GM activists once again raised a cry when the centre’s regulatory body approved open field trials of BT brinjal for human consumption.
The symposium, however, lacked a critical view with all the speakers comprising leading genetic scientists and biotechnologists opining that if India has to achieve food security, the country will need to adopt GM crops within the framework of stringent regulatory norms. According to them, allowing field trials under strict monitoring will generate scientific data that will result in informed decision.
“It is not a safety issue but a regulatory issue. There is policy paralysis,” said RS Paroda, former director general, Indian Council for Agricultural Research. “Concerns must be addressed scientifically. There is no doubt with the technology and we have the best regulation. But implementation is a problem and there is scope for improvement.”
Stating that the government must allow trials of GM crops developed by publicly funded Indian institutions similar to China or invest in new generation of pesticides like in Europe, Pental said, “If we want to do agriculture with 18th century methods with such a huge population then we have gone nuts. This is about societal hierarchy by those who do not want to engage in science and technology. And these call themselves nationalists.”