ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Sachin ChaturvediSubscribe to Sachin Chaturvedi

Genetically Modified Crops: Policy Logjam

In its interim report to the Supreme Court, the Technical Expert Committee has called for a 10-year moratorium on fi eld trials of genetically modifi ed crops in India. An evolving process, regulation of biotechnology needs to take into account the lessons learnt, current and future needs, changes in laws and rules, and advances in science and technology. While the current regulatory framework can be improved, a blanket moratorium does not help us move beyond polarised debates in biotechnology.

Approval of GM Crops

Socio-economic considerations associated with the application of gene technologies have been a major concern, especially in developing countries, which are caught between the potentials of biotechnology for development, on the one hand, and their adverse socio-economic impacts, on the other. Globally, the experience of countries even with the most advanced regimes for incorporating these issues shows that addressing them effectively remains a challenge. The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, the only global instrument for governance of genetically modified crops, does not address these considerations. Thus policy frameworks depend primarily on domestic concerns and priorities. Recent attempts to separate socio-economic assessment from biosafety assessment processes and conduct the two in parallel appear to embody a more pragmatic approach. The proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill must draw upon this international experience and associated insight.

Biosafety Regulation

The task force report on biotechnology has once again brought the biosafety debate to the fore. In this debate, the important aspect of regulation needs a broader perspective, beyond industry boundaries. The regulatory mechanism needs to be continuously updated, and revisions and modifications of the guidelines are needed in order to make the system dynamic and responsive. The task force recommendation of a long-term national biotechnology policy should also be considered seriously.

Biotechnology: Need for Reliable Statistics

Despite efforts by various agencies to collect statistics on biotechnology, there is a paucity of reliable data leading to confounding estimates of the size of the industry. India needs to urgently evolve a universally acceptable definition and construct a framework for collecting data.

WTO and Product-Related Environmental Standards

This article examines, in the Indian context, the issues of the linkage between exports from developing countries and the regulatory standards set by developed-country importers for food safety, quality and environmental norms. In particular, it looks at environmentally-sensitive goods, as environment concerns have in the recent past encompassed a large section of trade.

GEAC and Biotech Policy

There is a great deal of confusion on the issue of regulation and monitoring of genetically modified crops. While there exists on paper an elaborate system of ensuring safety through a system of statutory committees at various levels, none except the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has been set up.

Agricultural Biotechnology and New Trends in IPR Regime

Recent developments in biotechnology that have profoundly affected agriculture, more so in developing countries, have also been accompanied with the institution of stronger protection instruments. This, coupled with the fact that technological advances have thus far remained largely under the purview of the private sector gives rise to the question of the government's role and the space for public sector in agricultural R and D. There has also been a simultaneous focus on the increasing role of knowledge in agricultural production and the growing challenge of environment management in particular. What is critical is also the development of the necessary cohesion between broad developmental objectives and R and D endeavours that plays a far more significant role in frontier technologies especially biotechnology than in case of any of the traditional technologies.

Continued Ambiguity on GMOs

Despite the easing of trade embargoes and the increasing cultivation of transgenic crops, India still needs to clarify its stand on genetically modified foods and their import. Besides setting in place a regulatory system, it is necessary to inculcate awareness among the numerous agencies involved in the task.

Multilateral Agreement on Investment-An Analysis

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) mooted by the OECD will bring about major changes in the foreign investment regime. Existing policies of government regulation of foreign investment would have to be altered completely and in their place would have to be introduced policies for the protection of foreign investors. By truncating the powers of nation-states, the proposed foreign investment regime raises several important issues. One critical question relates to the implications of lifting of controls over the movement of all forms of capital. Another fundamental issue is the future of the post-war multilateral framework built essentially around sovereign states having inviolable rights over their economic domains.
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