Nov 7, 2012 | Devinder Sharma
Some weeks ago, I was addressing students of molecular biology at the Kerala Agricultural University campus in Thiruvananthapuram. During the question-answer session, I asked how many of them would like to take up agricultural biotechnology as a career. To my surprise, only a couple of hands went up.
The answer I got probably points to the future of agricultural biotechnology in India. Most students wanted to go into animal biotechnology and human genetics, but not into crop biotechnology. The reason they gave was that they did not see a future for crop biotechnology, given the social backlash against it. Well, I am aware that this class is not an exact representation of the national mood among students, but surely it tells us a lot about the way society, more importantly the younger generation, perceives genetic engineering.
So, when the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) recommended a 10-year moratorium on all field trials of GM food crops, I was not surprised. The expert panel had merely echoed the concerns and apprehensions that society at large has towards such crops.
Knowing the casual manner in which large-scale field trials are held across the country, the absence of a regulatory mechanism, and the failure to document the damage transgenic crops have inflicted on humans and the environment during, before and after such trials, the committee has called for invoking the “precautionary principle.”