India's Antibiotech Bureaucrats
April 3, 2002
India's Department of Biotechnology will spend $500,000 to create two facilities to screen crops and other food products for "transgenic" gene sequences -- the use of genetic modification techniques to move material between species.
- India is a country with little effective regulation of many high-risk activities; for example, it is not unusual to observe pre-teens performing welding or using dangerous machinery with no protective gear and wearing only a loincloth.
- Malaria, filariasis and other viral diseases, which have been all but eradicated from industrialized countries, are epidemic there.
- But instead of addressing these problems, bureaucrats are subjecting genetically modified crops to extensive and expensive testing and monitoring regimes -- but only those produced by more precisely crafted and more predictable techniques.
- Plants crafted using less precise and predictable techniques such as wide crosses (hybridizations in which genes are moved between unrelated plants) and intensive mutagenesis are exempt from this scrutiny.
For example, the relatively new man-made "species," Triticum agropyrotriticum, which is grown by combining the genomes of bread wheat and quackgrass or couchgrass possesses all the chromosomes of wheat and one extra whole genome from quackgrass. T. agropyrotriticum could, at least in theory, pose several kinds of problems, since it takes an established plant variety and introduces tens of thousands of foreign genes into it. These concerns include the potential for increased invasiveness of the plant in the field, and the possibility that quackgrass-derived proteins could be toxic or allergenic.
But such plant varieties are subject to no review prior to field testing or to entering the food chain. The irony is that the discriminatory regulatory burdens imposed by Indian bureaucrats are making it more difficult to produce pest resistant crops, which could not only increase crop yields but also replace many chemical pesticides.
Source: Henry I. Miller (Hoover Institution), "India's War On Vegetables," Commentary, Asian Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2002.
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