New Delhi (ISJ): Nobel Laureate Cell Biologist Sir Paul Nurse termed as "irresponsible", campaign against GM foods. He said the whole debate by people who have never been hungry is to "make people hungry elsewhere in the world". Sir Nurse, who is the President of the Royal Society, was in New Delhi to deliver the Blackett Memorial Lecture.
In an exclusive interview to Indian Science Journal, the English geneticist, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology with Leland H. Hartwell and R. Timothy Hunt for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division of cells in the cell cycle, described the whole debate against genetically modified crops as "anti-Science".
"This is anti-Science and what we need is political leadership and we don't want cowardly politicians who simply are thinking what the easy course is," said Sir Nurse. "We need some politicians of principle and with courage to actually explain what the evidence is and why they should focus on testing crops to see whether it is safe and not to have this obsessive interest in every product. It is irresponsible for our political leaders not have a proper debate over it, it is irresponsible."
Opinion has been sharply divided in India on introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops. A Technical Expert Committee (TEC) set up by the Supreme Court of India following a public interest petition on the environmental release of GM organisms recommended against allowing GM crops in India.
"The release of a GM crop into its area of origin or diversity has far greater ramifications and potential for negative impact than for other species. To justify this, there needs to be extraordinarily compelling reasons and only when other choices are not available. GM crops that offer incremental advantages or solutions to specific and limited problems are not sufficient reasons to justify such release. The TEC did not find any such compelling reasons under the present conditions," said the committee in its final report on June 30.
"The fact is that unlike the situation in 1960s there is no desperate shortage of food and in fact India is in a reasonably secure position. The TEC therefore recommends that release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity should not be allowed, added the report.
A Parliamentary Committee had also opposed the introduction of GM crops. In its report presented to Parliament on August 09, 2012, the Standing Committee on Agriculture headed by CPIM leader Basudeb Acharya said, "?since concerns on the potential and actual impacts of GM crops to our food, farming, health and environment are valid, GM crops are just not the right solution for our country."
Sir Paul Nurse suggested application of science in farming is an effective tool to produce healthy and good food "that exploit marginal eco-system, food that is of high productivity which use limited water resources."
"My argument is we have to use all the tools of science, including genetically modified crops because there is no reason not to use those and we shouldn't listen to the fears particularly, if I may say, those from parts of the western world, who do not really understand what is like not to have enough food."
There is lack of consensus within the Indian government, with Environment Minister Jayanti Natarajan not favourably disposed to GM crops, while Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar argued introduction of GM crops would help address food security issues. Natarajan's predecessor Jayaram Ramesh had placed a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal in 2009 following widespread protests by farmers.