GMOs and the future

Published : Mar 16, 2002 00:00 IST

Interview with Dr. William James Peacock.

Dr. William James Peacock, an expert in plant molecular biology, heads the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Plant Industry, a premier plant research institute located in Canberra. Best known for his expertise in the area of integrating plant science with modern agribusiness, he has employed innovative communication techniques to extend research results to the field and, more important, to educate policy-makers and others on the value of recent advances, particularly in the field of gene technology. His research areas include molecular genetics of seed development; plant haemoglobin; molecular biology of stress responses in plants; and inducing flowering, a major developmental decision in plants.

What are the implications of GMOs for developing countries and what safeguards should their governments adopt while introducing GMOs commercially?

Developing GMOs involves a lot of investment, which developing countries can hardly afford. On the other hand, biosafety measures adopted in developing countries are not adequate. This gives room for multinational companies producing GMOs to scale down biosafety provisions when they introduce GMOs in developing countries. How can developing countries protect themselves from exploitation and the possible dangers the GMOs pose?

How do you think developing countries can get involved, and who ensures that?

What is the role of governments in the process of introducing GMOs?

What are the legal, environmental and social implications of GMOs, in general, and for the developing countries in particular?

But the WTO works largely in favour of the MNCs. And that is the real problem - not with the technology, but with the way things work.

Is there any way to introduce minimal safety standards into GMOs that are traded internationally, particularly in the context of countries with different safety standards?

The controversy on the introduction of GM cotton into India, for instance, has instilled fear in people's minds about GMOs, in general. What is the future of GMOs in India in that context?

It is suspected that some MNCs that produce GM crops have a questionable record. Many have also got patent control over several GM technologies. Is it possible to develop a mechanism to check erring MNCs that trade GMOs internationally?

In the 1970s there was an agricultural revolution of sorts when pesticides came into the market in a big way. But, today, the small farmers in India are using the same pesticides unsuccessfully, which was not thought of in the 1970s even as a possibility. In this context, how do you see the future of GMOs? Is there a justification for people saying that there is the fear of the unknown?

What is the Australian government's position on GMOs? And what safeguards have you adopted before letting in GMOs? Probably we can learn from them.

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