NEW DEHLI—A report released today by the Indian prime minister's Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) makes a strong pitch for wider acceptance of genetic engineering and biotechnology. Chaired by chemist C. N. R. Rao of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, the report from the 32-member SAC panel describes genetic modification as a transformational technology that has benefited agriculture and health. The endorsement differs sharply from a parliamentary panel that took a negative view of genetically modified (GM) technology this summer. Today's SAC report also warns that "[t]he current debate, unfortunately, is demoralizing and isolating our scientists in the sector whose skills have been built with painstaking effort and large investment."
Opinion is heavily divided on the use of agricultural GM technology in India. Ten years ago, India adopted Bt cotton, which uses modified bacterial genes to control pests. But in 2010 the government put a stop to the introduction of similar technology in Bt brinjal, a type of eggplant. In a review of policy conflicts this summer, a 31-member parliamentary panel on agriculture gave its thumbs-down to GM food. It also linked GM technology to multinational companies like Monsanto, for which there is deep public distrust. It recommended that GM "field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith" and that research and development should "only be done in strict containment." Some experts suggested that it sounded a death knell for all research on genetically modified crops in India.