TINA - There Is No Alternative - was always Margaret Thatcher's favourite mantra when forcing market values down reluctant throats. Now, apparently, it is that of the UK's head of regulatory approval of GM foods, Janet Bainbridge, who's busy telling her Indian hosts:
' "India could learn a lot from the British experience," she reiterated, noting that Britain had experimented with tomato genes. '
Indeed... and these were the consequences:
British biotech firm Zeneca (by then AstraZeneca and now with its failing agbiotech division cast off into Syngenta), sold the last can of its GM tomato paste in June 1999 and its GM tomatoes are now no longer grown, processed or marketed anywhere in the world. Despite its massive investments in the biotech sector, Zeneca's total revenue from agriculture biotechnology was *zilch*.
As Janet says, "India could learn a lot from the British experience".
This key regulatory figure also appears to have had some admirably science-based caution to dispense to her audience. Two respected Environmental Protection Agency scientists, Wolfenbarger and Phifer recently concluded, writing in the journal Science, that there is simply insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions as to what the long-term effects of GM crops may be. The lack of safety data on GM foods is still more glaring, witness recent items posted to this list. However, none of this seems to have prevented Janet telling her audience:
"Enough experiments and studies had been done in the world on potatoes, cucumber, rape seed, maize and tomato for it to be safely adopted"
There is certainly no alternative to genetically modified nonsense in Tina Bainbridge's case, it would seem.
`No alternative to genetically modified foods'
Times of India
Chennai: Genetically modified (GM) foods may one day be the only solution for a world supporting 100 billion people where only 10 per cent of the land available can be devoted to agriculture, according to a British expert.
By the year 2020, a nation like China would have to import grain equal to the amount produced by all of North America now, Janet Bainbridge said. A time would soon come when countries would have to look at the quality rather than the quantity of food and value-added, additional nutrient foods will have to substitute for quantity, she added.
Bainbridge, decorated with the Order of the British Empire, is director of the School of Science and Technology at the University of Teeside. She is also chairperson of the Committee on Novel Foods and Processes that advises the British government on modified food. Her area of special interest is regulations that govern GM foods.
Bainbridge is part of a Brightsparks team that is participating in a week long festival of Indo-British partnership in science. The program, spread over several major Indian cities from January 6 to 13, is aimed at spotlighting British and Indian achievements in science. This year the program looks at the impact of biotechnology on society, with special emphasis on food and health.
Speaking at a symposium organised jointly by Anna University's Centre for Biotechnology and the British Council, Bainbridge said while it was tough to convince the people to adopt GM food, it was more difficult to convince governments to accept it. While in the United States about 70 per cent of the food on the shelves is modified in some way or the other, in Europe there is only 20 per cent acceptance, she said.
Noting that in the US meat protein comprised 70 per cent of the diet while in Europe it formed about 30 per cent of the diet, she said after the mad cow disease the West is looking more and more at sources of protein in plants.
She said the British government had not yet allowed the sale of GM foods in the open market as "first generation products were not beneficial to consumers". Switzerland had, however, thought GM products were good, she added.
Bainbridge told IANS that for a country like India, biotechnology research would have to look at specific products keeping in mind the local conditions, which are very different from those in Europe and the United States. As food habits differ, the emphasis would have to be in the plant sector rather than the animal food sector.
"Public understanding of science is very important and public opinion is very important," she said. India too would soon have to put in place laws and regulations that govern GM foods as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime comes into force and more multinationals bring in their products to the Indian market, she said.
Britain's experience in framing regulations could help Indian regulators, she said. The two countries need to look at how the British experience can be translated to India, she said.
Bainbridge said it was time to look beyond Dolly and Polly, the Scottish sheep clones. The benefits of biotechnology in therapeutics, in developing value added nutrient rich food, would have to be exploited, she said.
"Instead of depending on GM imports like American maize and oil seeds, it is better to add value to locally grown crops," she said. "India could learn a lot from the British experience," she reiterated, noting that Britain had experimented with tomato genes. The already available knowledge in the area and the technology could be modified to suit India conditions and applied here, she said.
Outlining the possibilities biotechnology held for the future, Bainbridge said it could be used to develop maize varieties immune to pests, thereby helping cut down on the use of harmful pesticides, or to develop drought resistant varieties of crops. Enough experiments and studies had been done in the world on potatoes, cucumber, rape seed, maize and tomato for it to be safely adopted, she said.
Distinguishing the controversial terminator technology, used in Monsanto seeds and BT cotton imported by India, from genetic modification of food, she said "food safety and transparency" of the processes should be kept foremost in mind. "Ideological and ethical questions should be addressed first. Rigorous and detailed research on genetic modification should be undertaken before any such program is allowed in the public domain," she added.
While the terminator technology "is very contentious and is an undesirable change, GM technology is no better nor worse," she said.