An article on Biotech policy

Biotech policy: Secretive and hasty.
The government’s stance towards biotechnology shows such disregard for the public interest that even its own Expert Committee is not privy to the proposed new policy. Suman Sahai protests the reckless endorsement of vested interests while many other stakeholders are kept in the dark.

Excerpts from the write up which appears at Indiatogether.org on 29 April 2006.
Dr. Suman Sahai is President of Gene Campaign, based in Delhi.

India has been conducting research in biotechnology without having a national policy in place. A Public Interest Litigation filed by Gene Campaign in the Supreme Court created sufficient pressure for the government to set up an Expert Committee to frame a national biotechnology policy. The Expert Committee was stacked with members from the industry and government; I was the solitary NGO member. Protests by Gene Campaign that the Committee should be expanded to include concerned stakeholders were not heeded.

The Department of Biotechnology and its Secretary seem to be in a terrible rush to get a policy in place with as little public intervention as possible. There is an informed rumor that the draft Biotechnology Policy is going to be in Parliament in the coming session. That is far too premature since it has not been adequately discussed by stakeholders, and even the Expert Committee that was established to frame the policy has not been informed of the content of the draft to be presented to Parliament. This is not how policy should be made.

The recent report of the Monsanto study on the organ damage and compromised immune system of rats fed with GM corn, should be an eye opener.

Why this rush and secrecy? The usual reason is that vested interests – biotech corporations in India as well as foreign ones – are being favoured. Throwing caution to the winds, India has scripted a Biotechnology Policy to cater to the wishes of the Biotechnology industry, rather than think of safeguards and a precautionary approach.

The Policy must take a clear position on crops and traits that are permissible and those that are not. GM crops that could have harmful social or economic impacts for farmers and consumers, those that are frivolous and those that will displace labor and impact rural livelihoods must be banned in this country. Herbicide tolerance should not be used in this country for it brings no significant advantages but would destroy sources of supplementary nutrition and underutilized food sources, it would destroy vegetation that is used as supplementary fodder for livestock and it would destroy flora used as medicinal plants, in addition to taking away a significant source of wages, especially for rural women.

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