India's new biotech matrix (2/6/2004)

Here's news of the final report of the MS Swaminathan Committee which has been looking at GM crop regulation. It was with reference to this committee that PV Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society commented that the "powerful industrial lobby in India" is working to "completely dismantle the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and hand over the control to an industry dominated committee in the name of a fast track approval."

For more comments on the Swaminathan Committee's interim report see: http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=3406

NB the final report apparently says that the "evaluation procedure of GM crops should invite farmers' participation and not that of the NGOs". Interestingly, in the run up to the commercialisation of Bt cotton in India, "farmers' groups" were  invited to attend a 'public dialogue' on GM cotton approval held by the Indian regulator - the GEAC.  But these farmers groups had no significant constituency and a history of coordinating their activities with industry.

Check out those who attended: Chengal Reddy and the Federation of Farmers' Associations (FFA) http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=196

and Kisan Coordination Committee http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=70

Biotech In Farm: The New Matrix
MS Swaminathan panel favours Autonomous Regulator
Financial Express, June 03

NEW DELHI:  The final report of the MS Swaminathan Committee on applications of biotechnology in agriculture has proposed setting up of an autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) with two wings, one for food and agriculture sector and the other for pharmaceutical and industrial applications.

The powers of the existing regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry, are sought to be curtailed, limiting its functions only to biosafety and environmental safety, till the NBRA is set up. The panel has suggested that the monitoring and evaluation committee (MEC) should report to GEAC on biosafety and environment safety issues.

The promoter agency, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the Union agriculture ministry, should organise testing of genetically modified (GM) crops through All India Coordinated Research Project.

Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who received the copy of the panel report on Wednesday, said, "The secretaries of different departments of both food and agriculture ministries would review the report. After the review we will be able to come to a definite conclusion."

He however said that he is agreeable to any suggestion which would help in ensuring better crop productivity and food security.

The interim report of the Swaminathan panel, the details of which were published in The Financial Express on April 28, had drawn criticisms from several experts like the former regulator for GM crops in US and currently chief of Biologistics International, Sivramiah (Shanthu) Shantharam who had criticised the recommendations for giving more than due powers to the promoter agency, ICAR, in matters of testing of GM crops.

Experts and NGOs had also raised doubts about functioning of the proposed autonomous regulator.

In this context when questioned to which ministry of the government the NBRA should be attached for financial support, Dr Swaminathan said "this has to be decided by the government." In the interim report it was suggested that the autonomous regulatory authority "could be attached for necessary administrative support to the department of biotechnology", another promoter agency.

The executive summary which was circulated to mediapersons said that the evaluation procedure of GM crops should invite farmers' participation and not that of the NGOs. The farmer and consumer organisations should have complete information on the benefits and risks associated with GM crops. The report called for a special government-sponsored insurance scheme for GM crops and seeds.

Several experts have criticised this move as shifting of the liability from the producers of GM seeds to the government, farmers who pay premium and insurance companies.

The reported suggested testing of GM foods on basis of FAO-WHO guidelines and national food safety guidelines based on the recent report of the joint parliamentary committee on soft drinks and fruit juices. It suggested Rs 1,200 crore additional funds in the next three years for development of all aspects of biotechnology including setting up of biotech parks and autonomous regulatory authority. The report calls for preserving of agro-biodiversity zones and organic farming areas.

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