7-Business: Indian agri-biotech stuck in groove
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-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE: Agri-biotech Stuck In Groove: Expert
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India
DATE: 18 Jul 2004
------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------
Agri-biotech Stuck In Groove: Expert
BANGALORE, JULY 18: Is the agri-biotech industry in India stuck in the
same place or is it moving forward? "I have been watching the biotech in
agriculture scene since 1985 and lately, it seems to me it is stuck. We
are not making any progress," noted Dr Shantu Shantaram, Biologistics
He placed partial blame for this on the lack of knowledge about the
subject, which in turn came from a lack of communication from the
According to him the entire genetically modified foods debate was a
"collosal failure of communication." Common people have been fed
unscientific information on biotechnology and this has led to a fear and
therefore outright rejection of biotech - at least as far as food is
concerned, he pointed out.
While there is a lot of excitement over pharma biotech - (which is more
attractive even from the investment point of view) - when it comes to
agri biotech, "all we have is one stupid Bt cotton to talk about," Dr
This is at a time when scientists like Dr Gurudev S Khush, known for his
pioneering work on rice which revolutionised rice cultivation, are
talking of biotech as an 'imperative'.
The Dr Khush warned that the world's current production of 2.16 billion
tonnes of foodgrain will need to reach 3.11 billion tonnes by 2025.
Moreover the challenge would be to achieve this with even more scarce
resources less water, less land (which is being taken away by buildings),
less labour and less chemicals than now.
The only way to increase yield, and the quantity and quality of food
produced is through biotechnology, he stressed. Quoting the Nuffield
report on Bioethics he said "(we) do not see any other route unless we
destroy our forests."
While the scientific world was working on vitamin A enriched rice, as
well as strains of crops that could withstand abiotic stresses such as
salinity, drought conditions, floods and so on, there was still the
matter of convincing the public of the need for biotechnology.
Communication of this was important and the "media needs to report
science accurately," he said. Protests across the world were slowing down
growth of biotechnology, again a function of communication, or
Quoting a 2003-04 FAO report he said that the FAO "urges the poor
countries to realise the potential of biotech. Developed countries,
especially Europe need to realise that their opposition is harming the
But a 'propaganda of fear' had been built around biotech. "Leave alone
the common man, even politicians, and the media are very confused about
agri biotech," Dr Shantaram said. The problem was that the anti biotech
lobby was stronger; they went out to "camp among people and tell them"
while "we scientists are just convincing each other," he said.
This has also led to regulations for agri biotech being more stringent
than that for pharma biotechnology.
Despite the 'overwhelming evidence' of safety, governments still shy away
from biotechnology. Public sector investment in the area is also low.
Investment today will see returns only 15 years and the delay of each day
is pushing that date further, warned Dr Shantaram.
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig
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