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Pawar admits concerns about genetically modified food could be real

Aug 10, 2013 07:50 AM IST Politics Politics
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New Delhi: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in an interview with the CNN-IBN has admitted that concerns about genetically food could be real but he added that a ban on field trials would be an extreme measure. "Without trials, how can they test. So opposing even trials, I think this is an extremely sad," he said."

Here's is an excerpt from the interview:

Rupashree Nanda: In 2010, Jairam Ramesh imposed a moratorium on the commercial release of Bt brinjal and his argument was that that there was no consensus, either scientific or political for the commercial release of Bt brinjal. Now the Supreme Court appointed technical expert committee also says that there should be a moratorium of the field testing of GM crop. Do you believe that these people have a point of view? That they are also raising concerns that are probably real?

Sharad Pawar: India is not the only country where we are thinking of GM food. As I told a few years back, India was a major importer of cotton. We have accepted Bt cotton. Ninety two per cent area of the cotton in this country is under Bt. Government has not propagated but the farming community has accepted. And now few years, they are taking crop of Bt cotton and that's why we have become self sufficient. We have become not only self sufficient but we have become exporters also. And in India, only cotton has been the crop where the GM has been allowed not a single other crop has been allowed. Those who are raising concern that there has to be proper machinery to evaluate these products, they are right. The Supreme Court is also saying that you appoint a proper machinery - yes. But if appointing proper machinery, they have to go and test. For that test, you have to take trials. Without trials, how can they test. So opposing even trials, I think this is an extremely sad.

Yes, if suppose something goes wrong, it is affecting environment, it is affecting soil, it is affecting water, it is affecting other crop, it is affecting human beings, it is affecting animals, yes - we have to take corrective action or even we have to stop. But there are many countries in the world who are taking advantage of this and they have successfully improved their productivity. Another thing I recollect, in 1960s , when India started propagating hybrid seeds, in those days there was tremendous opposition. But ultimately whole country has accepted. Farming community has accepted. And because of this hybrid, we have successfully become self sufficient.

Rupashree Nanda: Are you saying that GM technology is absolutely essential for India to improve productivity in agriculture?

Sharad Pawar: See, basically, such a huge populous country - any government cannot neglect the issue of the food security and if we are to take enough attention towards food security, we have to see how we have to improve productivity. Today, India got 2.5 per cent of land in the world, India got 3.2 per cent - 3.3 per cent water of the world. And India got 17 per cent of population of the world. With such limited land and water, we have to feed 17 per cent of the world's population, it is not an easy task. For that purpose, you have to produce more. And secondly, it should be affordable to the sizeable sections of the society. And farmers also should get remunerative price. So unless and until per hectare yield has been enhanced, productivity improved, farmers will not be happy and he will not survive.

Rupashree Nanda: Sir in 2012, when the Prime Minister was asked why had the governmnet put a moratorium on Bt brinjal, he had said that biotechnology has enormous potential, and in due course we must make use of genetic engineering technologies to increase productivity of our agriculture. But also said that there are controversies, there are NGOs often funded by the US, from the US and Scandinavian countries which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces. Would you agree that these NGOs which are funded from the US and Scandinavian countries are actually impacting the decision making process over here when it comes to critical issues like when it comes to GM crops?

Sharad Pawar: It is very interesting that some of these NGOs who are funded from outside - now take the country of the United States of America, they themselves are using GM food. Monsanto which is a controversial seed company is from America who has produced various different kinds of seeds, GM seeds and propagated in the United States of America. So these johnnies are producing, exporting, earning and teaching us that don't go that route? You see, today for instance edible oil has a shortfall. Lot of edible oil are coming from outside. There are certain types of pulses which are coming from outside. Soybean from America is a GM product. So they can process and they can send their finished product here that we should buy and we should fulfill our requirement. But, if some work on that direction has started here, immediately lot of noise has been made by certain sections of the society who have been funded from outside as you just referred to one statement.

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