For the sake of caution

A decision to refuse clearance to GMOs should be based on good science and policy

Published: Sunday 15 July 2001

Caution is good but it should not take the place of good policy making. By refusing environmental clearance to genetically modified cotton from Monsanto, the government of India has treaded the path of caution but not necessarily the path of good science and good policy. This should also not be viewed as a victory for the opponents of genetically modified crops for sooner or later their cultivation will begin. But the decision has given rise to three issues.

There is need for credible science to take a decision regarding the introduction of new products like gm foods in the country. There should be transparency in the entire process, independent evaluations and not industry-funded evaluations. Lastly, data should be shared widely and decisions should be taken on the basis of this scientific information. It seems that certain questions have been raised regarding the data released by the company on the field trials and the procedural legalities of it.

It is alleged that complete data of the field trials conducted by the company were not made public. Details as to the date of sowing, its effect upon pesticide use and ultimate yield were all kept out of the results that were released or glossed over. This was bound to create doubts in the minds of the people concerned.

However, the debate regarding gmos is not just confined to India. It is a global issue. gm potato has failed in the usa . Both Europe and Japan are debating whether consumers want gm canola or not. Egypt has declared not to import ge wheat and Sri Lanka has put a ban on all gmos . Thailand has banned field trials of all gm crops and The Philippines has put a freeze on all ge crop research. Then, thirdly, there is the problem of the image the gm industry has created for itself. It has created a tragic mistrust in multinational-controlled science. The critical issue is the way science has been applied. It has been the exclusion of consumers from decisions about the use of gm soya in stable foods or of farmers from the chance to choose whether to preserve seed from one season to the next that has created a deep sense of foreboding.

Therefore, confidence-building measures are vital by both the mncs and the government. There should be sufficient transparency to ensure that results are not being manipulated. The onus to improve its image also lies with the industry. mncs must realise that they cannot buy politicians and browbeat public opinion like the diesel and tobacco industry are trying to do.

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