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Swaminathan for biotechnology regulatory body

Special Correspondent
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Only an autonomous authority can instil confidence in public, says agricultural scientist

V.S. Ramamurthy, NIAS Director, greeting Abhijit Sen, Member, Planning Commission; M.S. Swaminathan, MP; S. Ayyappan, Indian Council of Agricultural Research Director-General; and P.K. Shetty, former dean, NIAS, at a conference in Bangalore on Tuesday.— Photo: K. GOPINATHAN
V.S. Ramamurthy, NIAS Director, greeting Abhijit Sen, Member, Planning Commission; M.S. Swaminathan, MP; S. Ayyappan, Indian Council of Agricultural Research Director-General; and P.K. Shetty, former dean, NIAS, at a conference in Bangalore on Tuesday.— Photo: K. GOPINATHAN

Noted agricultural scientist and Rajya Sabha member M.S. Swaminathan on Tuesday stressed the need for putting in place an autonomous biotechnology regulatory authority for ensuring bio-security of the country, with respect to the clearance of genetically modified crops.

“The regulatory authority will have to be autonomous and a creation of the Parliament. It has to conduct the risk-benefit analysis (with respect to the clearance for new GE crops) in a transparent and convincing manner in a bid to inspire the confidence of public, politicians and the media,” he told presspersons at the sidelines of the inaugural session of a two-day international conference on ‘Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainability in India: The future we want’, organised by the National Institute of Advanced Studies, in association with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

He said the proposed authority should crosscheck the data provided by the bio-technology companies about their crops to independently ascertain facts.

Pointing out that India presently has a Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which is chaired by the Additional Secretary in the Environment Ministry, he felt such committees cannot be autonomous.

“The US has a large number of GE crops. The reason for American public’s confidence (in the approved BT crops) is that they have three powerful agencies — the Environment Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agricultural Product Inspection Service — which look into the clearances for GE crops in a transparent manner,” he said.

Advising against acquisition of prime agricultural land for development projects, Prof. Swaminathan called for evolving a rational land-use policy, which takes care of the needs of food security as well as employment in non-farm sectors. “Only waste and degraded lands should be acquired for non-agricultural purposes,” he said.

He hailed the proposed Land Acquisition Bill of the Centre by pointing out that it makes it mandatory to get the consent of 80 per cent of farmers before acquiring their lands.

Expressing concern over farmers not getting remunerative prices for their produce because of the menace of middlemen, he stressed the need for setting up producer-centric market system by reforming the APMC Act.

Addressing the conference, Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen stressed the need for restructuring the country’s agricultural extension system to implement the concept of knowledge-based agriculture where farmers learn from others.

International Food Policy Research Institute Director-General Shenggen Fan observed that food and nutritional insecurity still persisted in India.

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