FOCUS ON ASIA
In this article India's award-winning journalist Ashok B. Sharma, who recently received the prestigious Prem Bhatia Memorial Award for reporting on environmental and social affairs, exposes the paucity of argument of Clive James the chairman of the biotech-industry backed GM crop promotion body ISAAA.
First, when James supports the new "single window" that is being proposed for GM regulation in India, he is forced to concede that even under the avidly pro-GM U.S. regulatory system, no single window exists for GM regulation.
Then James tells us Wambugu-style that he's not saying GM crops are a silver bullet, it's just they're "essential"!
Next, when cornered over the fact that poverty not production is the real problem underlying hunger in India - a country which regularly produces large surpluses of grain that go to rot because the poor can't afford them - James is left blithely claiming, "the transgenic technology can also solve the problem [ie poverty!!] by raising the income of the people".
How to support such a claim? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, James claims that GM cotton has been a success in India - this off the back of a discredited one-off survey carried out for Monsanto by the Nielson marketing agency!
And, finally, when confronted with the problem of cross-pollination of non-GM plants, the only solution James can profer is the Terminator! This he complains had had to be shelved at the behest of "the Greens".
In fact, MS Swaminathan, a co-host with James of last week's big pro-GM conference in New Delhi, was among those who denounced the technology: "In India where there are nearly 100 million operational holdings, denial of plant-back rights or the use of the terminator mechanism will be disastrous from the socio-economic and biodiversity points of view, since over 80 percent of farmers plant their own farm-saved seeds."
Swaminathan was just one among many who queued up to condemn Terminator genes. They included the FAO Director-General, Dr Jacques Diouf; Dr Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation; and The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
Not exactly a bunch of greens!
For more on ISAAA: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=66&page=I
ISAAA Chief for Pragmatism on Transgenic Regulator
Ashok B. Sharma
Financial Express, August 16, 2004 http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=66060
The announcement of the the Union science and technology minister Kapil Sibal on setting the time frame for the launch of a new regulatory authority for transgenic products, though, could generate enough optimism among the participants at the recent 'International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology: Ushering in the Second Green Revolution' in Delhi, Clive James, chairman of the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) rather prefers to view it with a sense of pragmatism.
Speaking to FE, Mr James said: "Single regulatory authority seems to be a good concept. It would mean one-stop shopping. But let's see how it can work in India. If it works well the outcome would be good." When pointed out, in context, that US which is the global leader in transgenic technology has not yet adopted a single window regulatory system, he said, "Yes, you are right.
"In US we have three different agencies regulating transgenic products." The agencies that regulate transgenic products are Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Environment Protection Agency (EPA). In US there is a heavy penalty for violation of regulations.
However, Mr James views the minister's announcement in a positive manner. He said: "The minister by setting a timeframe for action has expressed the political will of the government to address the concerns. The growth of the transgenic technology in India is necessary for ensuring food and nutritional security."
Unlike other advocates of the transgenic technology engaged in creating unnecessary hypes, the ISAAA chief was clear in defining the role of transgenic technology in ensuring food and nutritional security. He said: "Transgenic technology is not a silver bullet to solve the problems. Genetically modified crops are not the panacea, but they are essential." He said that transgenic technology can at best be taken as an alternative approach for ensuring food security.
Mr James said that global population is slated to increase to 9 billion by 2050. Ninety per cent of the world's population will be in the developing countries. At present 840 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1.3 billion people are afflicted by poverty. Therefore, conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050. Successful should be to apply multiple approaches, including population control, he said.
When pointed out that the problem in India is not due to the availability of food which is in surplus, but due to the limited access to food by low income people, Mr James said : "the transgenic technology can also solve the problem by raising the income of the people." Quoting Neilson survey on the performance of Bt cotton in India, he said that there are evidence of farmers reducing their costs by lesser application of pesticides and thereby increasing the yield of the crop. He said that increase in yield has helped the farmers to generate more income. The increase in yield has also helped in more deployment of labour force. Therefore, transgenic technology does not displaces labour, he said.
Mr James was emphatic that Bt cotton has performed well and has gained the acceptance of farmers. He said "in days to come the transgenic technology will offer stacked trans genes in the host crop for multiple benefits like improving nutritive value and protecting it from a number of pests and diseases." He claimed that the technology by developing a varieties of crops is actually aimed at increasing the biodiversity. "The Greens should not express concerns at the loss of biodiversity", he said.
When confronted with the problem of pollen flow to other crops causing a concern for loss of biodiversity, he said : "the terminator technology which is still at a conceptual stage can restrict the pollen flow to other crops. It was at the behest of the objections raised by the Greens this technology had to be shelved."
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