PALLAVA BAGLA

No GM fan? Indian science minister S. Jaipal Reddy

New Indian Science Minister: 'Science Is Not Clear' on GM Crops

NEW DELHI—India's new science minister, S. Jaipal Reddy, appears to take a skeptical approach with regard to one of the country's hottest issues: genetically modified (GM) crops. In response to questions from Science at a press conference on Monday, Reddy said "the science is not clear."

Reddy, a graduate in English and a career politician who's known as one of India's finest orators, took over as science minister on Monday in a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In his new job, he will have to navigate the highly charged debate on GM crops. The prime minister's 32-member Scientific Advisory Council expressed its bold support for genetic engineering and biotechnology in a report earlier this month. But on 17 October, an expert panel appointed by India's Supreme Court to advise it on a case recommended a 10-year moratorium on GM crop field trials.

Backers of those studies say the moratorium, if granted, would deal the field a devastating setback and hurt India's development. In a hearing on Monday, the court asked the defendants, including the Indian government and agricultural biotech giant Monsanto, to file briefs in the case by 9 November.

Reddy emphasized that adoption or rejection of GM crops "is not an ideological issue but a scientific issue." While declining to give his views on specific questions because the issue is in court, he said the "final scientific view has not emerged even at the global level."

In his remarks, Reddy also said he aims to help increase the number of scientific researchers from 154,000 to 254,000 over the next five years in an attempt to take India from 12th to 5th place in the global ranking of countries by number of published science papers.

Posted in Asia, Environment