Is Narmada water being made to flow in Sabarmati not supplied to city of Ahmedabad? This has furthered the idea of river...
I have been selling glass for commercial buildings talking about light, thermal/solar heat gain etc.etc..but I...
Dear Saxena ji,
Thank you for inquiry.
West facing windows can be a big source of heat, first measure which you...
The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (geac) braved roaring controversy to approve commercial plantation of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in April this year. As many more crops queue up for approval, A M GOKHALE, chairperson of the geac and additional secretary, ministry of environment and forests, speaks to LIAN CHAWII about the debate surrounding the use of genetically modified food
What are the implications of the recent Chinese study (which confirmed that Bt cotton's resistance to bollworm will eventually decline in eight to ten years) on the commerical application of genetically modified (gm) crops?
We were anticipating this situation, and do not consider it alarming. Insects have a natural tendency to develop resistance over the years. We do not rule out the possibility that this could happen in India. However, it is a well-known fact that Greenpeace, the organisation that published the Chinese study, is notorious for its aversion towards genetic modification. This does not mean I am against the organisation. If anything, I regard them as our watchdog. But there is no other credible study or evidence to prove that Bt cotton has failed.
You say you anticipated this result. Why then did you approve commercial plantation of Bt cotton?
We weighed the pros and cons, and realised that there are many beneficial aspects. One of the reasons for approval of Bt cotton is that pesticide use would decline by a phenomenal 80 per cent. Besides, India is not totally anti- gm crops, so we can experiment with this technology. Also, the fact that Bt cotton is not consumedmakes it relatively safe.
What about the other crops in the pipeline?
Well, there are a few crops in the pipeline. This, of course, includesmustard and tomato. Field trial for mustard is almost over, and the issue will come up at the next geac meeting. We will weigh the benefits and decide on its approval.
Unlike cotton, mustard is a cross-pollinating crop and is edible. What are the safety measures taken to protect the native gene pool?
Mustard is undoubtedly a different cup of tea. It is equally true that cross-pollinating crops need a different kind of attention. India has biodiversity hotspots in the Western Ghats and Northeast India, and the ministry'spolicy is to protect the gene pool and ensure that plantation is not carried out in areas close to such hotspots. I can say with confidence that the geac will definitely take extra preventive measures to ensure that the crop does not mix with its wild relatives.
About the other crops...Do you have a monitoring mechanism in place for any crop at present?
See, there's no definite policy on this yet. We are working on a plan for a monitoring mechanism, which will be discussed at the next geac meeting. We hope to come out with a clear-cut decision then. We do have humanpower in place at different levels. For example, in the case of Bt cotton, there is talk that only Mahyco (the company that Monsanto has a 26 per cent stake in) is monitoring trials in India. However, besides Mahyco, different groups, including the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Central Institute for Cotton Research in Nagpur, agricultural universities and the respective state agriculture departments, are also monitoring the development. Another important check we have in place is the farmer. Farmers have been instructed to record any changes they observe. Our farmers are highly observant. Unfortunately, at present, the geac is short-staffed, so we can only afford to conduct random inspections.
Where is India positioned on the question of labelling (marking products as gm for identification) for gm crops?
We have not arrived at a conclusive policy on labelling yet. This is another issue we plan to discuss at the next geac meeting. It is a sensitive issue. There are concerns in certain quarters that stringent labelling standards are necessary. This would help prevent entry of gm food products into India without our knowledge.
The geac has been criticised for its lack of transparency, and for the fact that there are no representatives from non-governmental agencies in the geac...
Firstly, the geac has no reason to be secretive. The results of the last field trial were not disclosed because there was no demand for it. It is a bulky document and is available on request. As far as the involvement of multi-stakeholders is concerned, we provide a platform for discussion, where stakeholders address their concerns. Besides, a 100 per cent consensus within the geac is mandatory for other agencies to be members of the committee.