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Injecting science into the GMO debate

Much of the policy discourse around GMOs and regulation continues to be fed by ideological posturing, not science. In this blog, Farria Naeem, IGC Country Economist in Bangladesh, calls for a greater commitment to understanding the science and evidence on GMOs and the role they could play resolving Bangladesh’s food-security challenges.

One main reason behind the sluggish upward trajectory in terms of adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMO) is the powerful anti-GMO campaign which continues appeal to public fears and foreboding about the safety of GMOs. Debates on the adoption of genetically modified agricultural technologies continue to be intense and passionate, often lacking an objective science-based viewpoint.

For countries like Bangladesh, where policies that to mitigate extreme poverty and hunger must be prioritised; there is an urgent need to re-inject science and reason into the debate on GMOs.  In re-evaluating the policy stance, we must assess Bangladesh’s ability to maximise benefits from safe technology to the fullest. The way forward will require us to shed our general diffidence toward science and initiate rigorous research into understanding how biotechnology can help cope with the climate, ecological, and nutritional challenges faced by Bangladesh.

It should be noted that Bangladesh approved a biotech crop (Bt eggplant/brinjal) cultivation in 2013. The approval by Bangladesh serves as an example for other small poor countries. It and has broken the impasse to gaining approval for commercialising Bt brinjal in India and the Philippines.

More recently, in February 2015, the government of Bangladesh decided to introduce genetically modified (GM) cotton in 2016 to increase production of the main raw material for textiles. However, at present reports of conflicting findings on the outcome of BT brinjal cultivation are appearing in the media which, in turn, may cause cotton growers to shy away from the cultivation of GM cotton which is otherwise deemed to be a highly profitable cash crop. This underscores the need for systematic, rigorous and independent evaluation to understand the direct and indirect impact of biotech crop cultivation.

The results and conclusions from similar initiatives would increase our accumulated knowledge and provide sound scientific support for shaping the regulatory framework. Orientation towards a policy regime that is backed by evidence-based research may help Bangladesh debunk the misinformation campaign surrounding GMOs – not only at home but also beyond.

A version of this article originally appears on the Financial Express

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