Noted Genetics Researcher Prof Deepak Pental has criticised the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee,which last month recommended a ban on open field trials of genetically modified crops till a robust regulatory mechanism was put in place,as an ideological rather than scientific forum.
The GM technology,Pental stressed,is too important for India to shut its eyes on.
TEC report is ideological not scientific. They were to comment on bio-safety. They are scientists assuming the role of socio-political guardians though they have no expertise on the latter. My frank opinion is that the TECs fundamental objection is to transnationals, Pental said at a panel discussion on crops organised by the Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development. He said he was ashamed that the scientific community could not even come out with a balanced report.
Questioning TECs argument that GM foods should not be allowed into India because the requisite testing expertise was not available,Pental asked how,if that was the case,India tested drugs,pesticides and vaccines.
He tore into TECs suggestion to separate fundamental research from commercial research on the lines of the Norwegian bio-safety model,claiming that it made no sense because,unlike India,Scandinavian countries are predominantly non-agrarian and rely heavily on food imports.
Speaking at the discussion,deputy director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research,Prof Swapan Datta,said he was disappointed that for a decade now,the government has not provided enough support,in terms of funding and policy,to the sector.
The last five years have in fact been a disaster, Datta added. We need crop trait improvements of almost every kind but we are failing to take it to the next level though scientists and laboratories are there. Scientific views are not being taken seriously, he said.
Datta recalled how the environment ministry had stalled release of Bt Brinjal though some 30 scientists from favoured it. He termed the recent developments on GM crops as frustrating.
K C Bansal,director,National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources,said the current debate over GM crops was a battle rather than a scientific discussion.
There is no case,he added,to deny technology to poor farmers,especially when India has so many mouths to feed and now a food security programme to implement. He pitched for an authority,independent of ministries,to address issues such as bio-safety and GM crops.
Dr C D Mayee,former chairman of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board questioned the environment ministrys decision to halt field trials of GM crops cleared by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. He alleged that the TEC has cited dubious reports to argue its stand.