Fbae Logo
Home | | Support Us | Contact Us
Goals & Objectives Our Position False Propaganda Special Topics Important Publications Important Links Events news Biosafety
Fbae Header Home




A Blanket Rejection of All GM Products is Unjustified

Shivaramiah Shantharam of Biologistics, a Washington-based biotech consultancy, is an expert on genetically modified (GM) products. In his earlier avatar as director, US department of agriculture (USDA), he formulated environment and people-sensitive regulatory frameworks for promoting the new technology. “A blanket rejection of all GM products is unjustified,” he tells Narayani Ganesh on the sidelines of a national symposium on “Relevance of GM technology to Indian agriculture and food security” organised by Gene Campaign:

Question: What kind of regulatory framework for GM products would you suggest for India?

I would suggest an independent statutory regulatory body independent of ministerial interference. It should be autonomous with enforcement powers, staffed with good quality risk-assessment experts working full-time: Scientists, ecologists, environmental scientists and other experts who can do comprehensive risk assessment.

Q: Should all countries follow an international framework?

Absolutely not. environmental risk assessment is the process by which you estimate or assess the interaction of the organism you introduce into the environment. That is why it is so important to conduct field trials before GM seeds are made available for commercial cultivation. Peculiarities of weather and soil conditions need to be taken into account, so every country has to work out its own risk- management and regulation.

Q: But isn’t it the case that most field trial data lacks credibility because it is obtained from the same MNCs who are supplying the GM seeds in the first place?

A: It is the job of the regulatory authorities to do a competent job of verifying whether the data is reliable or not. When fellow scientists submit their research work for peer review, that’s what they do. Hard-nosed questions are asked; statistics are checked thoroughly. That’s why regulatory bodies should have experts as members. Take the case of pharma companies conducting clinical trials for new drugs. Is that data not taken at face value? It is not feasible to conduct parallel research to test out every R&D pro-duct — but certainly, the results can be veri-fied with thorough analysis and scrutiny.

Q: Why do you say that labelling GM products is unnecessary? What about consumers’ right to choice?

A: I didn’t say that; I said labelling is not an issue. It has been politicised. There are all those products out there that are not labelled. So why single out GM products?

But slackness in labelling other products cannot justify leaving GM products unlabelled.
True, that’s why you should have a good critical evaluation system that will go into questions of viability, toxicity and so on.

Q: Is it worthwhile for developing countries to incur the high costs of making and marketing GM products?

A: Yes, provided you have put in place safety structures that will examine all aspects of it. Then it will eventually become cost- effective. But don’t build a regulatory regime that is so demanding that it is not commensurate with the nature and quantum of risk. Proper risk-assessment should tell you what is risky; then you create the required regulation to minimise that risk.

Q: What advice would you give to the Indian government on this?

A: Make sure you do proper risk assessment; put together a risk-management plan; and then communicate that risk effectively.
I took a look at the department of biotechnology’s vision document and found that it was too general — full of motherhood and apple pie statements, spread too thin, a mere wish list. There was neither a roadmap nor clear policy on addressing social, ethical or economic needs of society. There is much confusion about whether to have or not have a biotech policy. Eminent scientists like Prof M S Swaminathan and biotech entrepreneurs have said that it’s high time India had a national biotech policy. But the DBT spokes- person has said that there is no requirement for a separate biotech policy. This is not surprising because, tradition-ally, official India is so secretive; it is averse to public consultation and accountability.

Q: Why promote GM products when it is distribution, not production, that is creating food insecurity in most places?

A: Even in the US, 14 million poor lack access to food because of distribution problems. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made available a software called Second Harvest to track where the hungry are, where the surplus food is available, so that distribution logistics can be worked out. But to attribute all food security problems to faulty distribution is an over-simplification.
We have to be mindful of the huge opportunity costs caused by delays in the diffusion of modern biotechnology. The problem is, there is too much discourse, which has in itself become an industry. Biotech and GM crops have entered India through a tortuous route, which is largely private sector-driven. But, in the interest of Indian farmers, private-public sector partnership is important. The absence of regulation is bad, but regulations that are too stringent and limiting only add to the cost. For a GM crop to get approval, it costs $8 million in the US and $12 million in the EU. You have to strike a balance.

Related News Articles

Bt-corn does not harm biodiversity

Countering insect resistance with designer Bt toxins

ICGEB receives grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to strengthen and expand biosafety systems in sub-Saharan Africa

Policy on the transfer of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) from Asia to Africa by the WorldFish Center

Rules on marketing GM produce face review

EU ministers to debate Bayer's GM cotton, soybeans

EU's legal labyrinth of GMO legislation


The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

Influence of Transgenosis on the Plant-Insect- Relationships, in Particular on Chemically       Mediated Interactions

Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
      Effects, Methods and Definition of Damage as Contribution to Risk Assessment

The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

Environmental Post-market Monitoring of Bt-maize:
       Approaches to Detect Potential Effects on Butterflies and Natural Enemies

Columns by Dan Gardner

Against the Grains: 'The Terminator Hoax '

Decisions taken in the 84th Meeting of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee

Brazilian Health Biotech: Fostering Crosstalk Between Public and Private Sectors

Biotechnology Related Article Appeared on 'Samyukta Karnataka' ( Regional Language )
June 12, 2008.

Nothing Left to the Imagination

The Politics of GM Food
Kirit S Javali

Hi-tech seed factories: Sowing Seeds of Success

"Indian Seed Industry is Well Placed to Serve Both Domestic and International Markets"
Dr MK Sharma,
Managing Director,
Mahyco Monsanto

"If we Facilitate Seed Industry, we Facilitate Growth in Agriculture"
Dr Govind Garg,
Krishidhan Seeds

Metagenomics: Window to the Microbial Universe

Few Checks to Prevent Entry of GM Food

Gene Campaign Criticises India’s ‘Silence’ at Global Bio-Safety Meet

An Enforceable International Compact for Infectious Diseases

"Indian Science in Genomics has been Able to Place Itself on the Global Map"

Indian Gene Decoded

The Development of RNAi as a Therapeutic Strategy

FAO E-Conference on Biotechnologies and Water Scarcity

Genetic Landscape

Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture

RH Nature Reviews Genetics 08- Opposition to Transgenic Technologies

Germany: Discussion Paper of German Ag-Industry about EU Biotech Policy Implications

Bt maize performance in Spain

Arsenic speciation varies with type of rice

Why I Am Bothered by Neo-Colonialist NGOs

China experts identify gene for yield, height in rice

The French government has called for a debate on the review of the EU
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly criticised the EU for "undue delays" in the authorisation of GMOs. See the latest WTO ruling:

The legal bans are in France, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Greece.

EU delays decision on approving more GM crops

UCR Geneticist Plays Scientific Advisor to Movie about “Love, Adventure and ... Genetically Modified Rice”

Gujrat worst-hit by illegal Bt cotton production

Farmers seek ban on GM crops

Call for policing
Ijaz Ahmed Rao discusses the virtues of a bio-safety framework for genetically modified crops, now that they have become farmers’ favourite

Stem cells: The 3-billion-dollar question

Genes as the solution

Food crisis spurs research spending

Global Food Crisis / UN / Bilingual Transcript of Statements by Secretary-General, Heads of Concerned Agencies, and Response to Questions at Press Conference on Global Food CrisisGM Crops, A World View

Mass Protests against GM Crops in IndiaInterference at the EPA

Open letter to Robert B. Zoellick, President, World BankNew BT variety may push short staple cotton output.

The future of agricultural biotechnology: Creative, destruction, adoption, or irrelevance? ICABR Conference 2008

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

Prof. Kameswara Rao and Dr. T.M. Manjunath's Participation in 2008 Biotech Activities

Scrutinizing Industry-Funded Science: The Crusade Against Conflicts of Interest

LEADER: Nurturing nanotech

Center for Indigenous Knowledge for Agriculture and Rural Development

Scientists find potential schistosomiasis treatment

Islamic conference boosts S&T with new resolutions

Mexico publishes GM approval guidelines

Uganda 'close to stamping out Hib meningitis'

New method 'prevents spread of GM plants'

Social factors 'help women with post-tsunami stress'

Women scientists celebrated in new charter

Sub-Saharan Africa news in brief: 13–25 March

Brazil creates US$18 million fund for young scientists

Health weeks 'powerful tools' for deworming children

Rotavirus vaccine, not treatment, 'cheaper for Panama'