Agri-biotech sector battles confusion over GM crops status; wants clarity

Written by Shreya Roy | Shreya Roy | Bangalore | Updated: Jun 22 2010, 04:37am hrs
The Rs 2,000-crore agri-biotech sector is experiencing an existential crisis of sorts due to an uncertain regulatory environment following the moratorium on Bt Brinjal.

Companies and institutes with investments of millions of dollars and time in genetically modified crop research, are uncertain about the future. This is owing to lack of clarity in the governments stance on GM crops, say industry experts.

A recent study by the Association of Boitech Led Enterprises (ABLE) the premier biotech trade body says that while the moratorium for genetically-modified foods has not had any great impact on the agribio industrys performance, the industry is waiting for correct signals from the

regulator. The recent regulatory approval to conduct field trials of 17 crops has sent mixed signals about the future prospects of the sector, the study said.

Bt Cotton is the only GM crop commercialised in the country. However, public and private Indian research institutes have been working on GM technology for insect resistance in cabbage, cauliflower, rice and sorghum, disease resistance in potato, insect resistance and herbicide tolerance in corn, virus resistance in groundnut, and drought resistance in chickpea.

Bt cotton is a great success story for India. However, with Bt Brinjal, regulation became a political and emotional issue and moved away from science and reason, creating great uncertainty for all the research work that is going on, says KK Narayanan, MD, Metahelix.

V Ram Kaundinya, chairman ABLE, says regulatory requirements introduced after the Bt Brinjal moratorium are more favorable for large companies. Additional studying of the crop for four to five years will require more money, which favours large international conglomerates. Stringent price control also hits smaller companies more and will be counter productive in the long run, Kaundinya said.

Indian bio-tech research companies such as Metahelix, for instance, would find it very difficult to sustain through such requirements. Metahelix has been working on insect resistance for rice and is uncertain about the possibility of taking its product to the market.

Last months recommendation by the agriculture minister to introduce a new seed bill that would impose price regulations on normal seeds and cut FDI to under 50% could spell disaster for seed businesses, industry fears.