Mon, 24 Apr 2000

Expert urges body to promote use of biotechnology

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia must establish a national board to advise the government on how to promote biotechnology in the country, according to an expert.

F.G. Winarno, a senior researcher at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, said here over the weekend people were often confused by conflicting statements made by government officials on controversial biotechnology issues, such as the safety of farm products which contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"The advisory board could give input so that the government would have the same view in responding to questions related to GMOs," he said.

According to Winarno, people's negative response to GMOs was exaggerated and often not based on scientific grounds.

He feared that such a reaction would prove counterproductive to the promotion of GMOs in the country.

"We need to develop agricultural and medical biotechnology to boost food production," he said.

Winarno said the technology would help farmers grow food crops that were genetically modified for greater resistance to pests and diseases, enabling them to reduce the use of insecticides.

He said the technology also could increase the nutritional value of food crops, which would help promote better health among the population. Several common examples of such modified crops are tomatoes, corn and soybeans.

"Consumers should, however, be informed that such products have already undergone some biosafety examinations before they were released," Winarno said, adding that producers must provide detailed information on the content of their products.

He said many countries had set regulations requiring commodities produced through GMO technology to be labeled clearly.

The global treaty on biosafety, Cartagena Protocol, regulates the precautionary approach of protection in GMO products, as well as setting guidelines requiring exporters and importers to provide information on such commodities.

"Labeling is in appreciation of the choices of our consumers, which should be supported by strict regulations from the government," he said, adding that the rules should be backed by technical controls on their implementation.

The government recently issued guidelines on the biosafety of farm products in line with the global treaty on GMOs, but several non-governmental organizations claim the guidelines are too weak to protect the country from imported GMOs in the future. (07)