Testing times

Monsanto gets the nod to carry out trials of its GMOs

Published: Thursday 31 May 2001

Monsanto has been given the nod by the Indian government to import certain lines of its genetically-engineered soyabean for testing under controlled laboratory conditions. This is subject to clearance by the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources after quarantine clearance in case they harbour exotic pathogens, that is pathogens not found in India. The company has been permitted to go for testing under strict greenhouse conditions. Once the soybean passes the greenhouse tests, it will then move on to the next step of carrying out large-scale field trials.

While genetically engineered crops do have tremendous potential, concerns are many. Are we ready to deal with genetically-engineered crops and foods in terms of the impact these may have on biodiversity, soil and human and animal health? There are reports that indicate that the Bt toxin introduced into cotton is not as harmless as it appears. The targets of the toxins may develop resistance to the toxin over time. These toxins have affected insects and when bound to soil do not degrade. Has the government assessed the socioeconomic impact of these crops? Already cases have been filed against farmers in the us and Canada because they planted seeds saved from the previous crop. Do we really need a soybean variety that is resistant to the Monsanto's Roundup -- a way to ensure sales of the herbicide. The purpose of incorporating herbicide-resistant genes is that the soybean remains unaffected by the herbicide while all weeds and other undesirables get knocked off.

Before taking the irreversible step of introducing gmo s into the Indian environment it is important that all risk assessment procedures are in place as outlined by the biosafety protocol. European countries are banning field trials out of fear of the effects these may have on the environment. All new technologies, biotech or otherwise, need thorough investigation before they are adopted and should be able to withstand any doubts raised. In granting permission before the safety regulations are really in place and tested, India appears to be in a hurry to put the horse before the cart.

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