India Should Learn From Britain's GM Crop Trials / Biotech Education For Foreign Visitors (19/10/2003)

* India Should Learn From Britain's GM Crop Trials
* Biotech Education For Foreign Visitors
India Should Learn From Britain's GM Crop Trials
The Financial Express (India), Monday, October 20, 2003
Commodity Watch
The overwhelmingly large public opinion recently expressed in UK against commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods and subsequently the release of results of the world's largest ever trial on GM crops show that the US will find it difficult to push its agenda for lifting of the moratorium on GM crops.

The US had earlier dragged the European Union (EU) to the WTO dispute settlement body demanding lifting of the moratorium.

Now the UK's six million pound project for evaluation of GM crops on 280 fields has found that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet had a worse impact on  farmland wildlife than conventional crops. Backed by the strong public  opinion and the results of the recent survey, the EU has good reason for not lifting the moratorium.

In a related development the US multinational seed giant and the pioneer of GM crops announced its withdrawal from the European cereal seed business.

These developments are enough to indicate that India and other developing  countries should be cautious in commercial release of GM crops. Adequate trials should be undertaken before deciding to release any GM crop for commercial cultivation. Effects of GM crops on health and environment and on mega biodiversity need to be carefully evaluated. Moreover the results of these trial should be put in public domain for inviting public debate on case by case basis.

Unfortunately, such openness is lacking in India. The country has so far approved three varieties of Monsanto-Mahyco Bt cotton for commercial cultivation. Controversies have centred around since the approval. The regulatory authority has not yet placed the trial data in public domain. The results of the effects of Bt cotton cultivation on environment has not been made public. Several voluntary organisations and scientists in non-government sector have conducted their own studies and shown that Bt cotton has failed to give the expected results. The Andhra Pradesh state government has admitted that farmers who had sown Bt cotton seeds were severely affected due to crop failure. But the regulatory authority wants three years time to make its assessment of the commercial cultivation of Bt cotton.

Another important aspect centering the GM food is trade. With EU likely to continue its moratorium, the global market for GM food is not likely to grow. Apart from this the countries going for cultivation of GM crops are likely to face trade barriers from many countries which are averse to GM foods.

India and other developing countries which are demanding market access in  European Union should carefully consider this aspect before approving commercialisation of GM crops.

According to a survey conducted by the Strategy Unit in UK Cabinet Office  despite rapid take-up during the last few years, GM crops still make up less than 5 per cent of the total global area of crop growing. It further says that 66 per cent of the global area of GM crops are found in US, Argentina, Canada and China.

Four GM crops dominate like cotton, soyabean, maize and oilseed rape. This shows the low acceptability of GM crop on a global scale.

There are reasons to believe the recent scientific findings on GM crops in UK and also to respect the public opinion in that country. Earlier in July 2003, the Strategy Unit of UK Cabinet Office release a report projecting five possible scenarios on acceptance or rejection of GM crops. In October 2003 the UK government followed up with the largest ever field trial study on GM crops.

The UK field trial study seems to haven taken an impartial view. It has conducted case by case basis study on three major GM crops - oilseed rape, sugar beet and maize. While the study found GM oilseed rape and sugar beet as hazardous to farmland wildlife, it found that GM maize was better for wildlife than the conventional varieties. (The possible reason for this as some experts say is that GM maize was compared to conventional maize on which the weedkiller, atrazine was used).

But the genetic contamination on account of GM maize has already been noticed in Mexico.

Mexico, once the world major producer of maize and centre of diversity for maize has now lost most of its traditional high yielding varieties of  nutritive value.

It is high time that India learn lessons from the Mexican experience and preserve its traditional varieties of crops which have high nutritive value. The green revolution has brought the country to a state of food surplus economy, but it has displaced crops of high nutritive like a range of coarse cereals from cultivation.
Biotech Education For Foreign Visitors
High Plains Journal, Sunday, October 19, 2003  [shortened]
PRAIRIE CITY, Iowa (DTN) -- Many attending the International Biotechnology Information Conference traveled to Iowa expecting to see a visible difference between the biotech corn and non-biotech corn grown here. They were surprised when they couldn't find one.

More than 70 foreign policymakers representing 35 countries traveled to Iowa this week for the second annual International Biotechnology Information Conference. Decision makers from India, Japan, Malaysia, Great Britain, Nairobi, Brazil and beyond are here to learn more about biotechnology in agriculture production. They will have a firsthand look at the entire corn production chain, from the laboratory, to the farm, to the grocery store or export terminal. The knowledge they gain will be used to make decisions about biotechnology issues in their countries, organizers said. "I am here because I have worries about biotech food regulations," said Rakesh Mittal, a representative for India's Council of Medical Research. "We felt we needed to look at the effect of genetic modification on various plants before we approve it for human consumption. We want to see how Americans are dealing with these issues."

Mittal said he looked forward to speaking with biotech producers and scientists to learn more about the technology and how it is beneficial to farmers and consumers. The goal of the conference is to do just that -- foster greater international understanding of biotechnology, said Craig Floss, CEO of the Iowa Corn Promotions Board.

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