Working Paper

Biotech Firms, Biotech Politics: Negotiating GMOs in India

Published on 1 January 2003

This paper seeks to identify and explain the ways in which different firms affected by and involved in the debate about the role of biotechnology in Indian agriculture have sought to advance their interests. It is argued that the public positions of larger biotech and agro-chemical companies, seed enterprises and newer start-up firms and the associations they belong to relate to differences in their underlying corporate strategies.

The extent to which these firms are involved in primary research, export their products or require protection for their products helps to determine their political affiliations to the leading industry bodies that are active on biotechnology issues. In turn, each of these associations has been shown to have distinct patterns of interaction with particular government agencies involved in the regulation of biotechnology products, as well as differing degrees of contact with global industry coalitions. Alongside this, individual firms, especially larger companies such as Monsanto, have adopted their own unique and changing approach to policy engagement.

Assessing in precise terms the degree of influence that these industry actors have had upon the course of biotechnology policy in India is almost impossible. Nevertheless, it is clear that through a combination of material influence, in most cases high levels of institutional access, and in a context in which claims about the benefits of biotechnology are echoed and repeated in influential media, firms have played an important role in the evolving regulatory regime.

Currently the policy agenda in Delhi appears to be far more influenced by a fairly close-knit policy network of biotech entrepreneurs from larger multinationals and successful start-up firms with good national and global connections. Whose influence runs furthest will ultimately rest on government perceptions regarding the role of biotechnology in India’s development trajectory, decisions about which forms of biotechnology development are considered to be most consistent with the national interest, and choices about the appropriate role in this development of foreign investors as opposed to domestic enterprises. Given the enormity and economic and global significance of these choices, we can expect to see continued intense engagement with the policy-process by all actors with a stake in the issue.

Publication details

published by
Newell, P.
IDS Working Paper, issue 201
1 85864 517 4


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