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#India – The new biotechnology bill will promote GM technology rather than regulate it

The proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which may lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product, say activists

August 6, 2013

Photo: APPhoto: AP

Around 2,000 farmer unions, activists and citizens from 18 states will assemble at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on 8 August to put forward their concerns on the use of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and oppose the government’s alleged promotion of the same. The day-long dharna may also include the members marching to Parliament Street with a view that the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill may be brought up in the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament.

The Bill proposes to set up the BRAI – an autonomous body that activists, while citing conflict of interest, claim will promote the use of GM technology rather than regulate it. Activists say that the Bill proposes to set up a centralised single window clearance system which is designed to lower the bar for GM crop approvals with no independent long-term safety assessments or need assessment of a particular GM product.

“In the run up to the upcoming general elections, we feel that there needs to be a larger national debate on the relevance of this (GM) . For all the reasons it’s being touted as revolutionary, we believe we have better and safer alternatives we must consider. We are also expecting some parliamentarians to support our cause,” says Kavita Kuruganti, member of the Coalition for GM-free India.

American multinational seed company  recently withdrew applications for the cultivation of new GM crops after European regulators cited the reason that the “public here doesn’t want transgenic (GM) products.” “We want to tell them that the public in also doesn’t want genetically modified organisms (GMO) in their food. The GMO, BRAI and  should quit India as well,” Kuruganti says.

The press release sent by the Coalition for GM Free India informs that the “BRAI Bill which was introduced by the Science and Technology Ministry is now under review by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. Thousands have been writing to the Standing Committee asking it to recommend to the govenrment the immediate withdrawal of the BRAI Bill, to be replaced by a Biosafety Protection law instead.”

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court (SC) have both recommended that a precautionary approach be taken towards biotechnology in food and farming. Activists however claim that the Agriculture Ministry indicates a clear conflict of interest as it promotes GM crops.

Interestingly, the Agriculture Ministry’s representative in the TEC, Dr RS Paroda has not signed the final report of the committee which states that it would not be “advisable” to conduct more field trials till gaps in the regulatory system are addressed. Paroda instead has submitted a private report to the SC, the contents of which are unknown. Aruna Rodrigues, an environmental activist on whose petition the TEC was constituted, has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court through advocate Prashant Bhushan asking it to ignore Paroda’s report and uphold the TEC’s final report. In the affidavit, Rodrigues has flagged his association with the American multinational seed company , saying that Paroda’s association with organisations receiving funding from biotech seed giants like  and Mahyco clearly indicates conflict of interest. The plea is expected to be heard in the second week of August.

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