-- Recommendations of six National Science Academies and many others supporting the release of Bt brinjal ignored
-- Intervention from the Central Government critical in ensuring that applications of crop biotechnology benefit Indian farmers and the consumers
Mumbai, February 8, 2013: The Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises, Focus group on Agriculture (ABLE-AG), the apex industry body for the agri-biotech sector in the country, expressed its disappointment over the continued delay in the approval process for Bt brinjal, India’s first biotech food crop. The delay is the result of an indefinite moratorium imposed by ex- Environment Minister. The moratorium which was imposed on February 9, 2010 completes three years this year. Many eminent scientists from national and international institutions, economists and industry experts have expressed that this move was not based on science, and the indecisiveness of policy makers with respect to genetically modified (GM) crops is making it difficult for the agri-biotech industry to continue to invest research and innovation.
Following years of rigorous testing including over 25 food and feed safety studies, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) cleared Bt Brinjal for commercial release on October 14, 2009. After being asked to evaluate the safety of Bt Brinjal, the country’s six premier National Science Academies concluded in October 2010, that Bt Brinjal is safe for human consumption and that its environmental effects are negligible and stated that it would be appropriate to release Bt Brinjal for cultivation in specific fields in identified states. This conclusion was echoed in April 2011 by an Experts Committee nominated by Sri Jairam Ramesh himself that recommended limited release of Bt Brinjal to identified farmers under expert supervision. The government has not acted on all these recommendations and findings, and has not indicated any steps to lift the moratorium on Bt Brinjal till date.
Dr Seetharama Nadoor, Executive Director, ABLE AG said that, “Crop biotechnology has the potential to solve many of the problems being faced by Indian farmers and we simply cannot afford to ignore promising technologies like this. Bt cotton, which has completely transformed our cotton industry and has been one of most rapidly adopted crops in the country, is a great example of this potential. If we are to become globally competitive in agriculture, predictable regulatory frameworks that support research and allow timely approvals are critical.”
Professor C Kameshwara Rao, Executive Secretary, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), said that, “The lack of effort from the government to lift the moratorium on Bt Brinjal is sending the wrong signal to the agri-biotech industry. The unnecessary delay in the approval of Bt Brinjal is becoming an obstacle for other biotech crops which are in various stages of development. The 10 year blanket ban on trials for Bt food crops recommended by the Supreme Court appointed Technical Experts Committee has further dampened industry’s spirits creating uncertainty about the future of crop biotechnology in the country.”
Dr. Seetharama Nadoor added, “The industry appeals to the government to quickly frame supportive and conducive policies to speed up the regulatory approval for biotech crops. The industry also urges the government toend the moratorium on Bt brinjal and enable the farmers to draw the benefits of the technology. Both Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar have stressed the importance of crop biotechnology and highlighted the potential of biotech crops on several occasions.”
Globally, GM crops have been adopted in 29 countries for over 16 years with no scientific evidence to prove negative impacts on either health or the environment. According to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), since 1996, a total of 59 countries have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment. Several studies including those from ISAAA, PG Economics in UK, Bharat Krishak Samaj besides those from several independent national academic and research institutions have highlighted the benefits of GM Crops to Indian agriculture such as Bt cotton to farmers as well as to the national economy; however, the governments both at the Centre and in the States are yet to take notice of these studies and act in the larger interest of the nation.
The approval of Bt brinjal is a critical step for other biotech crops which are in pipeline being developed both by public institutions and by private enterprises for the creating a conducive environment to enhance and stabilize productivity and profitability of Indian agriculture on which the welfare of majority of Indians rest. Though quite late and too little the yesterday’s news on reviving GEAC which is overdue may be a sign in the right direction; we hope the needful will be done soon to give the technology adequate opportunities to prove itself for rejuvenating Indian agriculture.
Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises – Agriculture Group (ABLE-AG) is a focus group within ABLE working for the agri-biotech sector in India; it comprising of twelve member companies that aims at providing a platform to the industry players to promote modern agricultural biotechnology in the country. The association takes several initiatives to create awareness about modern agricultural technology and create facilitating environment to the development and introduction of superior biotech traits in Indian agriculture and ensure that the views of the industry are adequately incorporated in the formulation of different policies of the government in relation to agricultural biotechnology.