Agriculture scientist and Rajya Sabha member M.S. Swaminathan on Tuesday described the government’s moratorium on commercialisation of Mahyco’s Bt brinjal until independent studies established its safety, as “a wise and appropriate decision.”

He said it was appropriate not to hurry and to look at the problems to the satisfaction of all. The government should utilise the time to put in place a credible, effective and transparent system for the benefit of the country and conduct tests in a manner that had public trust.

Asked about transparency in the system, Dr. Swaminathan said the government should completely share the data. “After all, it is the public who has to consume it, not the government. The risks and benefits should be carefully evaluated.”

Dr. Swaminathan, also known as the ‘Father of the Green Revolution,’ said biotechnology was a powerful tool but it should be utilised for “public good.” Clearances should be on case-by-case basis. “Technology is a powerful tool and always evolving. How we utilise it, is important.”

Liability provision

Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission said that it was an “extremely positive” development. “During the moratorium period the government should put in place a liability provision in the Environment Protection Act which makes a [GM] crop developer solely liable for any potential leakage and contamination.”

“Mr. Jairam Ramesh [Minister of State for Environment and Forests] has set a good precedent. When you raise the bar, other products in the pipeline would be subject to same protocols and tests.”

According to Vandana Shiva of Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Ecology and Technology, the decision was a “victory for scientists, farmers, ecologists and all those who called for caution.”

The government should now put in place a robust framework of protocols that was independent from the companies which seek approvals. “It is important to note that 10 States [have] said ‘no’ to Bt brinjal. It is time now to allow States to define their own agriculture policies.”

“In right direction”

Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign found it a “step in the right direction,” given the fact that genetically modified organisms was a technology that raised several safety concerns. “His [Mr. Ramesh’s] emphasis that human health and safety must be secured above all is welcome.”

She said it was incorrect to assume that GE (genetically engineered) foods were necessary for food security as all scientists and policymakers know that food security rested on several other aspects and one single technology could not make any significant difference.

Food policy analyst Devendra Sharma said the government’s decision meant that farm scientists had to change tack and tune research to people’s needs and not company’s profits.