Thursday, January 28, 2016

NEWS: Anti-GM groups question NITI Aayog's pro-transgenic crops paper

Vishwa Mohan | TNN | Jan 28, 2016, 08.42PM IST

NEW DELHI: Government may be treading cautiously over the controversial issue of genetically modified (GM) technology, but its think-tank NITI Aayog has recently come out with a paper highlighting the benefit of the transgenic technology and its effectiveness in increasing agricultural productivity. It also noted that the anti-GM propaganda discouraged students and researchers to opt for biotechnology.
Though the think-tank put a disclaimer saying the paper does not represent the views of either the government or the NITI Aayog, anti-GM groups on Thursday wrote to the Aayog's vice-chairperson Aravind Panagariya expressing their strong opposition to such paper. They said such "unprofessional and amateurish" paper brought "discredit and disrepute" to the government's think-tank.
Taking on the critics of the GM technology, the paper - Raising Agricultural Productivity and Making Farming Remunerative for Farmers - said, "Objections to GM technologies are based on the twin fears that they may harm humans consuming the resulting produce and they may have adverse effects on biodiversity.
"But no compelling evidence supporting either of these fears has emerged more than two decades after the original introduction of GM foods in 1994".
Circulated as an occasional paper for wider consultation, the 46-page note is based on the work of the task force on agricutural development constituted by the NITI Aayog in March, 2015. The paper was brought out by the think-tank on December 16 last year.
Seeking to allay the fears of nay-sayers, the paper noted that India has even been importing and consuming canola oil made from GM rapeseed with "no adverse health effects reported to-date".
It also said that the success of Bt cotton in India and many more GM seeds elsewhere in the world testifies to the potential of GM technology in giving a major boost to productivity in agriculture.
"Genetically Modified seeds have emerged as a powerful new technolgy promising high productivity and lower use of fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides in the last one to two decades and have gained increasing acceptance among farmers around the world", said the paper.
Recognizing the general sensitivity to permitting multi-national companies to sell GM seeds in India, the paper suggested that it may be prudent for the government to proceed with the "domestically sourced GM seeds only".
It said, "Luckily, Indian scientists and institutions have been active and successful in this area".
The paper pitched for the use of GM technology in a chapter dedicated to raising productivity through technological interventions and other efforts including precision farming. It also suggested measures like remunerative prices, wide irrigation infrastructure, legalised land leasing and adequate relief schemes against natural disasters to make farming attractive.
The Coalition for a GM-Free India (an umbrella organization of anti-GM groups), in its letter to Panagariya, however, strongly opposed to any suggestion on the use of GM technology and insisted that the evidence in public domain existed that showed the dangers of transgenic crops on human health and biodiversity.
It said, "If NITI Aayog is to keep up its credibility as a policy think-tank for the nation and the government in particular, it is important that it remains credible in the eyes of the general public who can sieve through biased and unbiased as well as scientific and unscientific analysis".
The Coalition noted that the 10 years of the ongoing Supreme Court PIL on GMOs (Writ Petition 260 of 2005) has seen the petitioners present various evidences about the adverse impacts of GM technologies and it is simply untrue to claim that no evidence of such adverse effects exists.
"It is obvious that the authors (of the paper) did not even scout around for evidence to see if transgenics is the only option on this front, and it would be useful if rigorous, indepth examination of issues is taken up by the task force as well as authors of the occasional papers of NITI Aayog", said Sridhar Radhakrishnan of the Coalition's co-convenor.
Concluding his letter, he said, "We do hope that NITI Aayog will refrain from even disclaimer-prefaced occasional papers if it cannot adopt rigorous facts-based analysis".

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