Modi’s pitch for GM crops triggers debate

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for genetic engineering has sparked off fresh debate on the contentious issue.

editorial@tribune.com

Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 27

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for genetic engineering has sparked off fresh debate on the contentious issue. While a section of environmentalists expressed concern over its “consumer safety aspects”, reacting to the Prime Minister’s statement Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said the government would “abide by Supreme Court directions” on allowing GM crops in the country.

“The matter is pending in the Supreme Court and the directions given by it will be implemented. The government will abide by the SC directions,” the Agriculture Minister was quoted as saying by agencies.

Speaking at the launch of Kisan Channel yesterday, the Prime Minister espoused technology when he called for ways to increase productivity through modern technology like genetic engineering.

Addressing farmers, he said: “Today, the country has to import pulses. Let’s resolve that by 2022 we will no longer have to import pulses. Our agricultural universities should take up each variety of pulses, how to do research on it, how to do genetic engineering, how to increase productivity, how to increase protein content so that farmers get good prices”.

However, environmental scientist Soumya Dutta believes that there are “safer and healthier” ways for increasing productivity than following the GM route in which “serious health-related issues have not yet been resolved”.

“There are other ways to increase productivity like selection of species suited to a particular climatic condition and cross-breeding. Without getting into a debate about pros and the cons of the GM technology, I think health-related concerns should be resolved by independent authorities and not through trials conducted by promoters.

“There are two arguments in the favour of GM crops - they increase productivity and they are resistant to climate changes. In this connection, India’s experiment with Bt cotton is self-explanatory,” he says.

Even RSS-affiliate groups like Swadeshi Jagran Manch have voiced opposition to GM crops and their reasons are reliance on seeds patented by multinationals and lack of scientific evidence to prove that GM enhances productivity.

The Prime Minister is believed to be quite favourable towards the technology which he sees as one of the ways to boost farm productivity in a country where the number of mouths to feed is increasing by the year.

Fearing its effect on food safety and biodiversity, the UPA-II had placed a moratorium on GM brinjal in 2010 but confined field trials of some selected GM crops - rice, mustard and tomato - have been going on for scientific evaluation.

However, Dutta says GM variety of soyabean is already under cultivation in some parts in states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, though on sly.

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