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2-Plants: On illegal Bt cotton in India

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TITLE:  Grim Harvest
        Illegal seeds offer regulators invaluable lessons
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India
DATE:   May 30, 2003

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Grim Harvest
Illegal seeds offer regulators invaluable lessons

Genetically modified crops are in the thick of yet another controversy.
As The Indian Express reported on Wednesday, a number of home-grown,
unapproved Bt cotton hybrid seeds - obtained by a crude cross-
hybridisation of unofficial Navbharat 151 and local non-GM lines - are
being traded and sowed in the Gujarat cotton belt. That that is the case
shouldn't surprise. Three years ago, Navbharat 151 had made a clandestine
and impressive solo debut in the state, even as the powers-that-be
endlessly delayed granting official sanction to Bt varieties from Mahyco.
Then, when the latter finally hit the market after a seven year waiting
game, the desi illicit seed outperformed even those! Amidst all this,
regulators failed to assess both, market wisdom and the farmers'
determination to vote with their ploughs. The former dictates that it's
near impossible to restrict any rational consumer - especially one who is
empowered with adequate information and requisite purchasing power - from
gaining access to a successful product. And that was amply illustrated by
Gujarat's farmers when they decided to reap for themselves, by crook, the
economic and environmental benefits long enjoyed legitimately by their
international counterparts.

Yet tragically, our regulators remained plagued with bureaucratic
inertia. They had various options on hand - They could have altered the
approval process and considered approving particular genes, instead of
specific crop varieties, which would have provided greater choice to
farmers unhappy with the legitimate option; they could have speeded up
approvals for newer Bt hybrids; they could have even regularised
Navbharat 151 given the impossible challenge of cracking down on a
flourishing parallel trade. Instead, they sat gloriously indifferent
while a nightmare scenario played out in Gujarat, one which now bodes ill
for both, farmers and the future of this technology in India. Now, not
only are thousands of kheduts greatly susceptible to over-priced and poor
quality seeds but because they are out of the regulatory loop, one can
expect rampant violations of biosafety guidelines to give rise to
environmental risks and reduced effectiveness of a valuable
biotechnological tool. The upshot of all this rather simple: No
government can indefinitely stymie the adoption of a beneficial
technology. Market economics will effectively prevent that from
happening. But whether or not avoidable negative externalities arise is
certainly a function of effective regulation. When will our secretive and
excruciatingly slow-paced regulators understand that?


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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