India's biosafety legislation soon

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.150 Published online 1 October 2012

Shortly after a parliamentary committee heaped criticism over India's handling of genetically modified crops, the country today announced its intention of formulating a biosafety legislation. The announcement came at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that opened in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Union minister for environment and forests Jayanthi Natarajan told the sixth meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Cartegena Protocol (CoP MoP-6) that India would practice scientific rigour to evaluate the long-term impacts of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) or genetically modified crops.

India, she said was interested in ensuring biosafety and in looking at the socio-economic impacts spinning off from new technologies. "There are no shortcuts in achieving this balance (between modern technology and biosafety). LMOs is a controversial issue with concerns on long-term impact on ecology and conservation," she said.

The 19-day conference will discuss, among other things, the safe handling and transfer of LMOs.

The Executive secretary of CBD Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, emphasised the importance of LMOs for individual national policies saying the COP's new guidance on risk on assement of such organisams should be taken seriously by member countries. "Now it is for you to take the Guidance home and use it in your domestic implementation of the Protocol," he said.

The CoP will develop further guidance on new topics such as risk assessment of living modified microorganisms, viruses, animals and fish, and LMOs produced through synthetic biology, he said.

CBD spokesperson Charles Gbedemah pointed out that many signatory countries lacked the scientific know-how and research facilities to handle LMOs. Scientific assessment was a pre-requisite for any policy level changes concerning LMOs, he said.

The Cartegena Protocol was adopted in January 2000 to help ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs that could adversely affect conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. In all, 164 countries, including India have signed the protocol.

The convention is expected to bring together close to 1500 delegates from more than 150 countries.