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2-Plants: Indo-Swiss workshop embraces GE rice

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  India set to embrace GM rice 
SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology 21 (2): 117, doi:10.1038/nbt0203-117
        by K.S. Jayaraman
DATE:   Feb 2003

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India set to embrace GM rice 

India's apex body of agricultural scientists has given the go-ahead for
the widespread introduction of genetically modified (GM) varieties of
rice, lifting the gloom in the biotech industry cast by government
indecision over GM mustard (Nat. Biotechnol. 21, 9, 2003). 

GM varieties of rice may soon be widely planted on the Indian subcontinent.

"With a need for an additional 50% more rice by the year 2030, we need
rice varieties with higher yield and greater yield stability. We should
use all the tools at our disposal to meet these challenges," a
spokesperson for the New Delhi-based National Academy of Agricultural
Sciences (NAAS) said while releasing the recommendations of a workshop
held in Chennai to discuss the biosafety issues of transgenic rice.
Although the workshop took place during October 27-30, 2002, the final
recommendations were officially released only at the end of December 2002.

The academy, the largest body of professional agricultural researchers in
India, has endorsed development of rice varieties tolerant to drought,
submergence, and salinity, and rich in micronutrients. Transgenes
encoding products such as Bt (already introduced in cotton varieties
released in India last year) can also be put in rice for pest resistance.
However, the academy has discouraged work on transgenic rice varieties
that produce drugs and pharmaceuticals, apparently to avoid unnecessary
risks with a crop that is the staple of India's diet.

Swiss-based Syngenta (Basel), which has a major rice program in India, is
expected to be pleased with the recommendations. According to Pawan
Malik, president of the seeds division of Syngenta India, the company is
working in collaboration with as many as 35 institutions in India,
including the Pant University of Agriculture and Technology at Pantnagar
and the Konkan Agricultural University in Dapoli.

The academy's full support for GM rice came after the workshop dispelled
the fears of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) [only one NGO at that
workshop is known to have some knowledge in the field, GENET/HM] that
releasing transgenic varieties in a "center of origin of rice" would risk
contaminating the land races, as reportedly happened with maize in
Mexico. Although the workshop admits that "the potential of gene flow in
rice does exist," Virendra Lal Chopra, president of NAAS says, "it did
not identify any scientifically valid environmental or ecological impact"
of transgenes on the center of diversity.

Although agreeing with this, Suman Sahai, convener of Gene Campaign, an
NGO that opposed the introduction of Bt cotton in India last year, says
the question of genetic pollution "must be addressed for transgenic rice
through appropriate regulatory oversight, on a case-by-case basis."

Meanwhile, "The NAAS recommendations are a shot in the arm for biotech
research," says E.A. Siddiq, formerly deputy director general of the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research and a workshop participant.
"Researchers who have been unsure if their work would enter field trials
would be enthused."

One researcher is Akilesh Tyagi of Delhi University, whose salt-tolerant
rice is ready for trials. At the International Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, Madan Mohan and colleagues
have developed a variety resistant to attack by "gall midge," a major
pest of rice worldwide. "We will have a gall midge-resistant transgenic
plant growing in our lab in three months," he says, adding that he does
not anticipate any NGO opposition because "we have only transferred a
gene from one rice to another."

However, this is not the case with vitamin A-rich golden rice, which
contains genes from bacteria. Gurumurthi Natarajan, a biotechnology
consultant in Chennai, says that, under the recommendations, application
of golden rice "must be reviewed through the regulatory process, keeping
in view the social, political, and cultural implications." Although the
Indian government has decided to introduce golden rice, "we have made
sure that golden rice will not contain antibiotic markers," says Siddiq.

According to NAAS, lack of a scientifically sound regulatory review
process is one critical factor that might limit the realization of the
numerous proven and potential benefits of GM rice. Therefore it has
called for "a transparent regulatory process and appropriate regulatory
oversight based on sound scientific information."


you find more information on that workshop:

critical voices from Indian research institution have not attended the

Can Golden rice eradicate vitamin A deficiency?
Ramesh V. Bhat and S.Vasanthi
National Institute of Nutrition Hyderabad
The Hindu, India
Dec 5, 2002

Non-GE solutions in plant breeding obviously are faster and not bound to
patents and trade restrictions as result from licence agreements

Dream [non-GE] rice to curb malnutrition
Pallav Bagla
The Indian Express
Jan 29, 2003