Tue, 07 Nov 2000

House commission works on GMO rules

JAKARTA (JP): Insisting it is taking an impartial stance on transgenic products, or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), House of Representatives Commission VIII for environmental, science and technology affairs is working on a draft law to regulate the controversial products.

"We are neither accepting or rejecting such products. But we think that we have to take precautions over the safety of the products.

"That's why a regulation is needed to handle the matter, especially with the implementation of regional autonomy next year," commission chairman Irwan Prayitno said during a break in a public discussion about transgenic products at the commission's hearing room.

The only existing regulation which touches on the issue, he said, was a 1999 joint ministerial decree issued by the ministers of agriculture, forestry, food and horticulture, and health. This decree is concerned with the safety of foods and natural products.

"But the decree is only valid internally for the four ministries. Therefore, it must be reviewed," Irwan, a legislator from the Justice Party (PK), said.

The issue of GMO products continues to spark debate among the public.

GMO are biologically engineered products in which genes are inserted from one species into another to produce a new product which has desired and beneficial characteristics.

A researcher from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Antonius Suwanto, said the debate was understandable, but stressed that Indonesia already trailed other countries in biotechnology issues.

"Thailand has anticipated biotechnology developments by establishing the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Singapore and Malaysia are discussing the technology to detect and determine the criteria of transgenic products," Antonius said during the discussion.

The government must determine such issues as biosafety, labeling, the examination system and regulations, prices, laws and the infrastructure to deal with these products, he said.

Tejo Wahyu Jatmiko of the National Consortium for Nature and Forest Conservation said scientists tended to promote only the good side of transgenic products.

"It's similar to the United States, whose Department of Agriculture only allocated 1 percent of its total biotechnology research budget, or around US$1 million to US$2 million, to research the negative impacts of the products," he said during the discussion. (hdn)