Sustainable Development: Gene Wars Go South

Buried inside the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s agenda in Johannesburg is another explosive issue – genetically modified crops. Some governments are pressing ahead with these regardless of widespread fears that they are an environmental disaster. In March India gave the go-ahead for commercial planting of genetically modified cotton – a move that’s provoked more polarised reaction.

The World Today
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For several years, speculation had been rife that cotton would become the first commercial genetically modified (GM) crop in India. The country funded domestic biotechnology research throughout the 1990s, and GM cotton varieties have been tested extensively in field trials. At the same time, Indian regulatory authorities have been concerned about the safety of agricultural biotechnology. National regulations were introduced in 1989, and India was behind recent efforts to create international rules that led to the adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in January 2000.

Indian negotiators argued that the Protocol should be based on the precautionary principle and allow countries to reject imports of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because of suspected environmental harm, as well as socio-economic considerations. Partly in response to growing domestic opposition to such crops, India has banned GMO imports.

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