Dr M.S. Swaminathan, considered the Father of the Green Revolution in India, finally stated his views on genetically-modified (GM) crops in an opinion piece published on August 26, 2009, in this newspaper. GM crops are produced by inserting foreign genes, mostly non-plant genes (bacterial, viral and animal genes) for obtaining hitherto non-existent, new characteristics in a crop. For instance, the Bt class of GM crops like Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, have been engineered at the genetic level by the insertion of a bacterial gene so that the plant produces its own poison against chosen pests that feed on the crop.
Dr Swaminathan, who headed a task force on agri-biotechnology which gave its report in 2004 to the ministry of agriculture, began his report by reiterating what many of us believe: That "if agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right". The report emphasises that the bottomline with regard to any policy on agri-biotechnology is "the safety of the environment, the well-being of farming families, the ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, the health and nutrition security of consumers, safeguarding of home and external trade and the bio-security of our nation".
After presenting such a comprehensive requirement around any policy-making on GM crops in that report, it was surprising to see this recent article hype up the so-called benefits of GM crops and play down valid concerns.
Let me begin with some fundamental issues that Dr Swaminathan did not touch upon: