A draft policy

Print edition : February 14, 2003

ACCORDING to the Chennai Declaration formulated at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation-organised the three-day international dialogue, India has well-defined policies in the fields of atomic energy, space applications and information technology. It is time a biotechnology policy was put in place through political consensus.

Regulation for advancement of biotechnology for the public good is the motto of the Draft National Food and Agricultural Biotechnology Policy which, the Declaration suggests, should be administered by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The policy draft provides the terms of reference for an autonomous and professional Biotechnology Regulatory and Advancement Commission. The aim of the commission would be to harness this powerful technology in a risk-free and responsible manner.

The Declaration stresses that the commission should build on the Cartagena International Protocol on Biosafety and introduce a system of regulation and monitoring that inspires public, political and media confidence. There should be a multi-stakeholder representation in the commission, including nominees of the government, the scientific community, public and private sector industries, the media, and, farmers', consumer and women's associations.

The suggested responsibilities of the Commission include:

* Creation of the expertise and infrastructure needed to undertake a critical and transparent scientific assessment of the food and environmental safety of genetically modified crops.

* Coordination of the work of the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Environment and Science and Technology in the area of biosafety assessment.

* Formulation of guidelines for research collaboration between the public and private sectors in such areas as functional genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics, as also priorities in public investment.

* Assistance to foster linkages among biodiversity, biotechnology and biosafety management.

* Monitoring of the role of the biotechnology industry in assisting the implementation of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights and the Biodiversity Act.

* Upgradation of patent offices and development of expertise in dealing with issues connected with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime.

* Promotion of regional and international biosafety collaborations.

* Functioning as a single window regulatory and monitoring agency.

* Creatation of public awareness on issues relating to biosafety and biotechnology in local languages.

The commission, should submit every year a report to Parliament on the state of food and agricultural biotechnology in India.

In order to build national capacity in all areas of risk assessment and biosafety valuation and monitoring, and to provide scientific and technical support to commission, the Declaration suggests the setting up of a National Research Centre for the Safe and Responsible Use of Genetically Modified Crops. This centre is to maintain a global database on biosafety assessment procedures and legislation, apart from imparting training and networking in the field of biosafety evaluations.

Human health and environmental safety, stresses the Declaration, should constitute the bottomline for all risk assessment.

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