Close on the heels of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for enhancing “efforts to rid the country of the scourge of malnutrition” through increased production of food grains, biotechnologists and social scientists have tried to affirm the role that biotech crops will play in ensuring food security.
Unveiling ‘The Bangalore Declaration’ on Monday, they asked the Centre to take measures to “remove unjustified and arbitrary constraints that jeopardise the functioning and development of the Indian agribiotech R&D”.
Lauding Prime Minister’s recent statement on Bt brinjal, the scientists said their belief stands vindicated with an “assertion by PM on efficacy of genetic engineering in increasing production in agriculture.”
Today many developed and developing countries are using agribiotech to address their food needs and challenges of hunger and malnutrition. India, the scientists say, must capitalise on the opportunities of agribiotech to ensure adequate food for its teeming millions. They dismissed apprehensions on biosafety as baseless and lacking scientific rigors. Citing global references, they said all progressive countries are using agribiotech. For instance, India has only approved six events of Bt Cotton as against 37 events in China in crops including canola, cotton, maize, papaya, petunia, poplar, rice, soybean, sweet pepper and tomato.
C Kameswara Rao, Secretary, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness & Education (FBAE), said it is imperative that constraints like “requirement of the permission of state governments even for field testing of biotech crops approved by the regulator, and the threat of legal action against the use of indigenous germplasm to develop biotech crops for indigenous use” are removed expeditiously. The declaration also urged the government to “Accept the GEAC recommendation of October 14, 2009, on commercial release of Bt brinjal and lift the moratorium.”
They called for fpassing the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill without further delay.
The Prime Minister had on February 20 while speaking at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute Golden Jubilee celebrations argued for “greater injection of science and a knowledge-based approach to increasing incomes and productivity” in the farm economy. “It is estimated that we would need an addition of nearly 50 million tonnes of food grains in the next 10 years to meet domestic demand. Increased production of food grains is an important plank of food security and our efforts to rid the country of the scourge of malnutrition,” Singh had added.
Taking a swipe at opposition to a progressive technology by some, renowned social scientist of Cornell University, known for his work on agriculture in South Asia, Ronald Herring said, “A perennial puzzle in the study of social movements is the success of relatively small numbers with compelling ideas defeating more numerous or powerful opponents. But why do only some ideas have power?”
Echoing his concerns and allaying fears on safety of biotech crops, Klaus Ammann, Honorary Professor for Biodiversity and former Director of the Botanical Garden, University of Bern, Switzerland, said, “A large number of scientific papers demonstrate the environmental safety of GM crops; they are as safe as conventional crops.” Outlining the need for a biosafety protocol B Sesikeran, Director, National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, and who was a member of the Expert Committee constituted by GEAC to study and review the findings of the large scale trials of Bt brinjal, said, “The primary need of biosafety evaluations is to identify the various components of biosafety protocols, on a case to case basis.”