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Petitioning Mr. Narendra Modi, Hon. Prime Minister of India

Please allow scientific field testing of GM crops in India

Letter to the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi - Please permit the field testing of genetically modified crops in India

6 August 2014

Mr. Narendra Modi Hon. Prime minister of India New Delhi, India Dear Sir, We the undersigned group of international scientists from academia and the public sector, are very excited about your vision for agricultural growth and development of India, in which application of agricultural biotechnology would play a crucial role.

The decision of GEAC in the last few months to approve 36 genetically modified (GM) crops for field trials is a welcome step that is applauded by both Indian and global scientific and farming community.

To clarify a few misunderstandings regarding this approval, may we respectfully request you to consider the following points?

1. At this stage, the issue is about only field trials of GM crops in India. Decision on commercialization of these crops is a later option when all the regulatory requirements have been met.

2. GM technology easily integrates with and complements conventional agriculture, including organic farming, as historically various cultivation practices and technologies have co-existed.

3. There are nearly two-thousand scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals attesting to the environmental, food and feed safety of GM crops, including the use of Bt genes. For instance, Bt corn is used as a food and feed item for over 15 years by millions of people and cattle. Hundreds of million people in different countries have been consuming biotech crops for 18 years without any reported health hazards or environmental harm. Biotech crops are being used as cattle feed even in the European countries

4. GM can be a vital technology to enhance the dietary nutrition of the population, which is of high priority for India. For instance, India’s Golden Rice program, to ameliorate vitamin A deficiency in millions of poor women and children, has not made any headway in ten years and there is an urgent need to fast-track this product. Further, the GM technology holds considerable promise in developing climate-hardy crop varieties including drought and heat tolerance, crucial and beneficial traits for the future. Newer gene editing tools would permit fine tuning of existing crops to make targeted precise changes in crops without the introduction of external genes.

5. India has in place a robust biosafety regulation system for this technology that is science-based, and is applied on a case-by-case basis depending on the crop, trait and nature of the gene. The Indian regulatory regime is rigorous but in recent times it has become onerous and there is a need for change in attitudes in implementing our regulatory policy.

6. Unfortunately, GM technology has been unfairly vilified by special-interest groups in the country. Propaganda and rhetoric based on unauthenticated or anecdotal information should not be allowed to derail the use of an important technology that has tremendous potential to enhance agricultural productivity in our country. We also recognize that GM represents a tool in a tool box, and there are multiple solutions to address the problems facing Indian agriculture.

7. An often-heard criticism against GM technology is that it would lead Indian agriculture under the control of multinational companies (MNCs). Private sector including MNCs bring vital resources including investment, expertise and cutting-edge technologies in every area, and agriculture is no exception. However, the current embargo on GM technology is seriously hurting the ability of Indian scientists in Indian public sector institutions to pursue vital research to solve serious problems of agriculture in India. In view of the negative propaganda, students are reluctant to get into this exciting field of research and this is a grave concern. MNCs have the potential to conduct their field trials in any other country but not the Indian public sector under current embargo.

8. We are also encouraged by your pronouncement on India’s Independence Day (August 15) that you welcome entrepreneurs to invest and make products in India, but sell anywhere in the globe. Agricultural biotechnology affords enormous opportunities not only to address the country’s needs, but also export agri-products ‘Made in India’. If this has to happen, India has to improve its agricultural productivity considerably, which is around 30% of world average at this point of time.

9. India has formulated strong regulatory guidelines to approve GM trials.. The GEAC, a statutory body, is not being allowed to function by political or other forces making it ineffective. The state and district level monitoring committees, which many states have not constituted, should be strengthened to implement the guidelines.

10. Bangladesh has already approved commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. Field trials of this crop carried out over a period of 8 years in India under GEAC supervision do not deserve to be wasted under a moratorium. It would be appropriate to lift the moratorium on Bt brinjal without further delay as it does not need any new tests, but only an executive decision for commercialization

Under your leadership, India has a unique chance to be a global leader in agriculture. Using the best science and deploying the appropriate policies, India can easily feed its people and beyond in a sustainable manner despite many challenges.

We would be happy to provide any information that would help you to resolve the issues around the conduct of GM crop field trials 

Sincerely yours, on behalf of all signatories

Prof. C. S. Prakash Professor, Crop Biotechnology Tuskegee University, USA Phone 334-7217-8023 prakash@mytu.tuskegee.edu

Prof. Gurdev Singh Khush, University of California, Davis and International Rice Research Institute; recipient of World Food Prize, Japan Prize, member of Indian National Science Academy, Fellow UK Royal Society (FRS) and US National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. G. Padmanaban. Former Director Senior Scientist, Indian Institute of Science. Member of Indian National Science Academy

Prof. M. Mahadevappa, University of Agricultural Sciences. Padma Vibushan awardee. Ex-Director Indian Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board. member of Indian Agricultural Science Academy President, Forum of Former Vice Chancellors of Karnataka State Universities  

Prof. Hanu R. Pappu, Sam Smith Distinguished Professor, Washington State University, USA Professor

C Kameswara Rao, Bangalore, Executive Secretary, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore

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