'Indian food, agriculture laws need review'

Wednesday, 26 November 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Noted agronomist M.S. Swaminathan Wednesday said there was need to introduce more safeguards in Indian food and agriculture laws, particularly for genetically modified (GM) technology.

He said that with proper safeguards, biotechnology could help India achieve the objective of raising food production to meet growing demands.

Swaminathan heads a special committee studying the issue of agriculture biotechnology and the safe and responsible use of GM technology.

"There are serious regulatory lapses in food and agriculture that need a re-look," said Swaminathan on the sidelines of a two-day seminar organised here by leading NGO Gene Campaign.

"There is need to have more public consultation and understanding of new technology before adoption. From the farmers' point of view, there are issues of cost, risk and return on investment that have to be considered and understood."

Gene Campaign organised the seminar to mark the completion of a decade of campaigning for farmers' rights and protection of indigenous knowledge. The event focussed on the relevance of GM technology in India's quest for food security.

Agriculture experts like V.L. Chopra, president of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and Suman Sahai, president of Gene Campaign, said that while there was nothing wrong with adopting new technology, there was need for proper safeguards to ensure "bio-happiness".

Criticising the fact that India's regulatory authority on GM technology -- the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) -- has witnessed several changes of chairmanship in the last one year, Swaminathan said: "This is not desirable in a committee that is looking after a very complex and scientific issue."

Swaminathan said there should be more technically competent people in the panel he was heading to handle the issue of approval of GM technologies for adoption by farmers.

"We will be submitting our report on the application of agriculture biotechnology next month. It will cover the broad spectrum of agriculture including crops, animal husbandry and fisheries," Swaminathan told IANS.

He said government policies were proving a hindrance to successful implementation of projects like grain banks, which were mooted to help farming communities with seeds supplies and to act as buffer stocks in rural areas.

"Currently the transaction costs of transporting food grains is such that states are unwilling even to lift the food grains allocated to them for various programme," said Swaminathan.

Similarly, on India's experiment with GM technology with BT Cotton, Swaminathan said it is hard to say whether it has been a success as apart from GM seeds making their way to farmers through illegal channels, even spurious seeds have been reaching them.

"In addition, most farmers are still not aware why they are being given traditional seeds to grow alongside genetically modified seeds," said the scientist, stressing the need for creating more awareness and safeguards.

Source: IANS
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