M.S. Swaminathan distances himself from GM paper

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Controversial article in the eye of a storm

In the aftermath of criticism by scientists, eminent agriculture scientist, M.S. Swaminathan, has said that he’s a “supporter of genetic engineering technology” and that he ought not to have co-authored the article, which was a review of genetic modification (GM) technology in crops, in India.

“I wish to… reiterate my total commitment and support to modern technologies including genetic modification and gene editing. Also, my emphasis has been on generating synergy between technology and public policy. In view of my extremely limited role in the paper, it would have been appropriate for Prof. Kesavan to have been designated as the sole author of the paper,” he said in a statement made public on the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation website on Wednesday.

The paper, ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security,’ was authored by P.C. Kesavan and Prof. Swaminathan, both senior functionaries of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The article was a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid. The latter two have been cleared by scientific regulators but not by the Centre.

Among other things, the paper described Bt cotton as a ‘failure’ and that India’s scientific regulators of GM crops suffered from “…endemic conflicts of interest, (and) lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols…”

However Dr. Swaminathan reiterated his “belief” that genetic engineering was unsuitable for crops that face ‘biotic stresses’ (such as damage from insects) and was more amenable to making crops resistant from abiotic stressors such as temperature and salinity.

The controversy erupted after the paper was criticised by several scientists including Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), K. VijayRaghavan, who characterised it as ‘deeply flawed.’

In an email to Dr. Swaminathan, Mr. VijayRaghavan wrote the “…review made extraordinary generalisations about the Indian regulatory system. It alleges both incompetence and collusion. These are very, very serious allegations against entire committees and Government…Eminent scientists and global leaders such as you have participated and coordinated discussions on these issues.”

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