Sep. 16, 2013
The list accessed by the TOI shows that Indian scientists have over the years developed more than 200 genetically modified (GM) varieties of as many as 15 crops including cotton, brinjal, castor, groundnut, mustard, papaya, potato, rice, rubber, sugarcane, wheat and tomato.
These varieties, developed by scientists in different Indian universities and research institutions, have all the traits — resistance to insect, fungal, drought and virus — which may bring them in the league of Bt cotton by increasing productivity and export earnings.
Indigenous transgenic varieties include a high salt-tolerant rice which can grow in salty water near coast. This variety is developed using genes of mangrove. Similarly, Indian scientists have developed a tomato variety having shelf life of over 50 days. The farmers will, however, reap the benefit of these findings only when government allows the scientists to go for extensive field trials and eventually for commercial production.
Bt cotton is the only genetically modified crop whose commercial production is allowed in India. Fate of others is caught in a pending petition filed in Supreme Court by anti-GM crops activists who have sought a complete ban on genetically modified technology.
Activists say transgenic crops will not only affect human health but it will also have a negative impact on biodiversity in the long run.
Indian scientists, involved in developing genetically modified varieties of many crops, dismissed such apprehensions at a number of occasions, They, however, found themselves on the same page with at least a section within the anti-GM crop activists who believe that a green signal to commercial production of such crops will affect the Indian farmers due to monopolistic control of seed business by multi-national companies (MNCs).
"The solution to this problem is to encourage competition among the GM seed companies and even more importantly to have mission-mode programmes for the development of genetically modified seeds in the public sector", said N K Singh, professor at National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology of the IARI, while referring to the list of varieties developed by Indian scientists.
He said, "The Seed Act and the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Act should be used effectively to ensure competition and control of seed prices in addition to the bio-safety".
It is true that the MNCs are far ahead in the development of GM crop varieties due to heavy investment and focused attempts by the companies. But, Indian research data show that the public sector transgenic crops can compete if allowed to grow.
Expressing his confidence over what the Indian scientists have developed over the years, Asis Datta, former vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, "GM crop is going to be an essential part of our life today or tomorrow. If we don't realize it now, it will only push the country back. It will be difficult to recover later due to intense global competition".
Datta, founder director of the National Institute of Plant Genome Research, rued that the hard work of Indian scientists has not paid any dividends to the country's farmers as their findings could not move beyond the field assessment stage.
"You won't know the exact impact of a particular variety of GM crop unless you are allowed scientific trials," he said.
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