Some fears on BT Brinjal legitimate, need debate: Ramesh
Holding that some of the fears over BT Brinjal are legitimate, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday advocated for a 'reasoned debate' in the country over the issue.
New Delhi: Holding that some of the fears over BT Brinjal are legitimate, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday advocated for a "reasoned debate" in the country over the issue.
Ramesh, who as Environment Minister had opposed Bt Brinjal, regretted that his government has not been able to fulfil three key milestones required for lifting of moratorium on the genetically-modified vegetable.
The milestones are -- setting up of an independent regulator, taking all states on board over the issue and developing a consensus amongst the scientific community about what the protocol for the tests should be.
"We need a reasoned debate in our country. Unfortunately this is not generating a reasoned debate. Some fears are legitimate. The most legitimate fear is the control of seeds by one company. There are many other exagerated fears that can be addressed over a period of time," he said.
He was speaking at a lecture on "State, science and national specificity: Cotton to Brinjal in India" by Professor Ronald Herring of Cornell University, US.
Ramesh rued the absence of a large public domain in Biotechnology in India.
"The Chinese have been successful because they have a very large public domain biotechnology... I am very ambivalent when I see all research being monopolized by private companies. This is something which I am not able to relate to. These are concerns that have to be addressed and they are not being addressed," he said.
Referring to the milestones, Ramesh said while the independent regulator was not in place, a consensus could not be reached amongst scientists.
"I could not get the six scientific academies to come up with a consensus report... which are the institutions which should carry out these tests and put it in the public domain. That also did not happen," Ramesh said.
He said he was very clear that this was a moratorium that was going to be in force only till these three conditions were fulfilled. Fulfil these conditions and you have every reason for lifting this moratorium, he added.
Ramesh regretted that the moratorium has been confused with a Supreme Court case. He said if one reads the last page of his speaking order, it says clearly, that the order deals with Bt Brinjal and not Genetically Modified crops.
He said the country needs GMs and different forms of it but not only the BT route.
He recollected how he had asked his Brazilian counterpart about their policy on GM crops and the minister had replied that Brazil was all for GM except in crops where it is a centre for genetic diversity and similarly his Chinese counterpart had explained how their country was for aggresive research and cautious marketing.
"It is a complex situation and we must recognize that food crops are going to create different sort of fears and concerns than non food crops," he said.
He said perhaps in retrospect, he may have had a different approach had it been Bt rice or Bt wheat or something which was related to food security.
"I cannot understand how Bt Brinjal is related to food security," he added.
He maintained that BT cotton was no doubt a success story as 96 per cent of Indian farmers use Bt cotton. He maintained that barring Maharashtra, Bt cotton is a success story in India and about 20 per cent of the success can be attributed to the Bt cotton variety.
Meanwhile, Professor Ronald Herring who gave the lecture said that there were 28 countries in the world which accepted biotech crops and India was the 16th such country to do so.
India's vision for developmental uses of biotechnology were broad and bold but the results were less so, the professor who is currently also editor of the new Oxford Handbook of Food, politics and Society said.
He said that regulation of DNA crops in India is theoritically based on incremental risk- a risk added by transfene that is not present in isogenic variety in some plants, he said during the presentation.
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