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Beware of these BT Scientists

India’s experience with Bt cotton illustrative, says US expert

Prof Ronald J.Herring of Cornell University delivering the keynote address at a workshop on Modern Biotechnology in Indian Agriculture in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.

Prof Ronald J.Herring of Cornell University delivering the keynote address at a workshop on Modern Biotechnology in Indian Agriculture in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.

The widespread adoption of Bt cotton in India illustrates why and how evasion of both bio-property and bio-safety regimes is pervasive globally, said Prof Ronald J. Herring, Cornell University.

A Professor of Government and Director of the Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University, Prof Herring made this observation in a paper being presented at the ongoing two-day workshop on ‘Modern biotechnology in Indian agriculture’ here.

The workshop is being organised by the All-India Crop Biotechnology Association (AICBA) in association with Environment Resource Research Centre (ERRC), Thiruvananthapuram, and Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE), Bangalore.


The primal global rift around genetic engineering is between agricultural crops and all other uses – such as pharmaceuticals and medicine, Prof Herring says.

Agricultural crops alone have been segregated into an object of politics and governance termed ‘GMOs’ (Genetically Modified Organisms).

This framing is ensconced in contentious politics, law and trade, whether or not the cultivars are used in food.

A second, and logically derivative, global rift divides rival advocacy networks supporting and opposing GMOs – that is, agricultural biotechnology.

This rift is politically charged and administratively consequential. It hinges on two inter-related dimensions: bio-property and bio-safety. Global opposition forms around critiques of genetically engineered crops on both dimensions.

New claims of intellectual property in seeds enabled by the genomics revolution in biology created conflicts over what can be owned, by whom, under what conditions, and in which nation.

Claims of novelty by firms seeking intellectual property reinforce a further aspect of contention: if novel, might products of genetic engineering raise special risks in comparison with cultivars bred by different techniques?


Transnational advocacy politics succeeded in framing ‘GMOs’ as uniquely risky plants, with corresponding global soft law for special regulation, observes Prof Herring.

Farmers have responded to restrictions of both regulation and property claims with stealth strategies.

Such grassroots challenges to formal institutions embarrass both sides of the global rift; neither bio-property nor bio-regulations prove so robust as antagonists in advocacy networks contend.

The Indian experience also uncovers a fundamental contradiction in mobilisation to halt diffusion of biotechnology in agriculture.

Successful demands for stronger regulation of transgenics strengthen property-like rights of multinational firms that find it difficult to enforce their property claims in any other way.

Bio-safety regulation can then function as a substitute for bio-property, producing an ironic and contradictory result for successful mobilisation against genetic engineering in agriculture, Prof Herring said.

The two-day event will discuss the challenges, solutions – need for biotech vegetables and food crops, and how new technologies can enhance the role of agriculture in Indian economy.

Courtesy : The Hindu

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