Need for public sector investment in GM food: Ramesh

There is a need for a large-scale publicly funded biotechnology programme in agriculture.

Updated: May 23, 2010, 15:35 PM IST

New Delhi: There is a need for a large-scale publicly funded biotechnology programme in agriculture to end the monopoly of the private sector, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said in view of widespread opposition to genetically-modified Bt brinjal.

"I think public sector investment in strategic areas particularly in genetically modified (GM) agriculture is absolutely crucial for instilling public confidence because of the seed issue. We don`t want the GM food to end up as a private monopoly," he said at a function here yesterday.

Ramesh, who had put a moratorium on release of the Bt brinjal in February citing lack of consensus within scientific community, maintained that had there been public funding, the country would have given competition to US firm Monsanto which is promoting GM food through Indian company Mahyco.

Bt brinjal is a GM vegetable which is infused with Cry1Ac gene from a bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to make the plant resistant to the fruit and shoot borers and certain pests.

He said that the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority would take care of issue of maintaining and conserving bio-diversity.

"Biotechnology Regulatory Authority is very much part of the government agenda and the Science and Technology Ministry will be introducing this legislation in near future.

"I am sure this will give an opportunity in debating the GM system, and the risks associated, such as how you manage the technology at the same time not closing the doors for harnessing the benefits of GM crops," he added.

Ramesh maintained that since GM cauliflower, rice and tomato among the food crops were in the final stage of tests, "we should not lag behind in harnessing the full potential of GM technology in agriculture in a safe and sustainable manner."

After holding a series of public consultations, Ramesh had announced the decision to put a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal till such time independent scientific studies
establish to ensure the safety of the product from long-term view on impact on human health.

Biotech regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had in October last year recommended going ahead with commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal but left a
final decision on the issue to the minister.