Regulatory manoeuvres: the Bt cotton controversy in India

Regulatory manoeuvres: the Bt cotton controversy in India

Biosafety regulation of Bt cotton industry, India: what does it mean in practice?

This paper examines how the regulatory policy governing agricultural biotechnology, in particular Bt cotton, has been co constructed by the interaction of scientists, bureaucrats, politicians, farmers, NGO activists, media commentators and others, from the local to the national level and even to the global arena.

The paper particularly focuses on the interaction between national and state level processes in the federal system, and an examination of how regulatory debates, formally located at the national level within national ministries and departments, influence and, in turn, are influenced by what happens at a state level. In order to explore state level dynamics in some depth, the state of Karnataka is taken.

Main conclusions include:

  • in practice, regulations emerge through a political process of negotiation between a wide range of actors in multiple sites. The result is usually an uneven, and often diverse, compromise, based on a combination of technical, social, political and, sometimes, moral considerations
  • a number of different debates are being had over Bt cotton: over the efficacy of the technology; the changing nature of agriculture; the control of agriculture and food by multinationals; the role of the state in a federal system; the relevance of regulation in a post-reform economy, etc. Different actors, deploying different narratives about regulatory policy, join up with different allies at different times
  • A responsive, adaptive and thoroughly embedded regulatory process is required with local legitimacy but without becoming prone to local capture by particular interest groups
  • the state, central and local, does not have the capacity for regulation. Other approaches will have to be taken which ensure multiple forms of accountability on the regulatory process
  • diverse forms of accountability are essential if biosafety regulations are to have any meaning in the contemporary setting

[Adapted from author]

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