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Biotech panel moots regulator

June 03, 2004 09:08 IST

The task force on national biotechnology policy, headed by noted agricultural expert MS Swaminathan, has recommended the setting up of an autonomous National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority with chapters at the state and district levels. 
The panel has also suggested a Rs 1200-crore (Rs 12 billion) work plan for the creation of infrastructure for development, monitoring, evaluation and promotion of biotechnology and genetically engineered products. 
The report has mooted the setting up of agricultural biotechnology parks in every state and agri-biodiversity sanctuaries in areas considered to be the habitat centres of genetic diversity of different crops to conserve this germpalsm for posterity. 
The report of the task force was presented by Swaminathan to Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, here, on Wednesday. 
Swaminathan said the report submitted on Wednesday was the only authentic version and he was not aware of the source of other versions of the report being commented upon by the green peace activists. 
He denied that the task force had named any particular ministry or department, to which the proposed authority or the existing Genetic Engineering Approval Committee should be attached. "This is for the government to decide," he said. 
Explaining the salient features of the report that carried 25 recommendations, Swaminathan said the bottomline was to ensure the economic well-being of farmers as also food, health and environmental security for people. 
Besides, it aimed at protecting national interests in international trade in farm commodities. 
The NBRA recommended by the panel would have two wings -- one for agricultural and food biotechnology; and the other for medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology. 
The biosafety and agronomic evaluations can be done concurrently to save on time taken for the approval of a genetically modified product. 
While advocating for high priority to using transgenic technology for imparting resistance to crops against pests, diseases and other stresses, the panel has categorically barred transgenic research in crops where India's international trade interests might be jeopardised.

These include crops like basmati rice, soyabean and Darjeeling tea. 
The Swaminathan panel has recommended the allocation of Rs 1,200 crore (Rs 12 billion) additional fund in the remaining 3 years of the current Plan for capacity building and creation of necessary infrastructure for development, evaluation and application of biotechnology. 
This includes Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) suggested to be set apart for providing venture capital to entrepreneurs. The setting up of the NBRA and strengthening of the regulatory and surveillance mechanisms would require Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.50 billion). 
About Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) was proposed for upgrading research infrastructure and developing trained human resource for the biotechnology sector. 
Besides, Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.50 billion) was recommended for the setting up agri-biotech parks on the models of the one developed at Hyderabad by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics. 
Swaminathan said considering the significance of correct information on biotech products, the task force had suggested the setting up of a media resource centre in the agriculture ministry. 
The farmers and consumers needed to get complete information on the benefits and risks of GM crops. 
The panel has mooted development of well-defined national food safety guidelines for GM products. 
The recommendations made by the Sharad Pawar-led joint parliamentary committee on pesticides residues for the soft drinks and beverages could form the basis for these guidelines. 
The international guidelines contained in the Codex norms for assessing and managing the health risks posed by the GM foods should also be closely followed.
Crop control 

  • The proposed body will have two wings -- one for agricultural and food biotechnology, the other for medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology.
  • Biosafety and agronomic evaluations can be done concurrently to save on time taken for the approval of a genetically modified product.
  • The panel has favoured a ban on transgenic research in crops where India's international trade interests may be jeopardised.
BS Agriculture Editor in New Delhi