Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finding a Common Language between Ulama and Scientists on Agribiotech

MABIC just organised an international workshop for Islamic scholars “Islam and Agribiotechnology: Finding a Common Language between Ulama and Scientists”. The workshop proved the existence of a wide communication and information gap between the two groups. More so, among the religious scholars and officers where there is lack of understanding of biotechnology. Scientists remained guided by their knowledge on religion and ethics, however, as technical knowledge is only gained through formal education, the religious group requires assistance and basic training in this area.

The workshop was an eye-opener for many religious scholars and officers on basic molecular biology such as “what is a gene and DNA; and how GM crops are developed”. Foreign delegates mostly, both scientists and scholars seemed to be more at ease with the technology compared to the Malaysian counterparts. Many were also amazed to see the progress of GM technology in Iran and the advancement of their home-grown technology. The progress in Pakistan, India and Egypt were equally impressive.

The workshop indicated a number of issues:

  1. Malaysia is clearly lacking behind many other Muslim countries in terms of GM technology – both in research and commercialisation
  2. There is a crucial need for Malaysian religious scholars, especially at the officer level to be exposed to biotechnology
  3. Personal views, sentiments and emotions cloud the process of decision making, especially among the middle management, where there is a lack of proper understanding of both Islam and biotechnology. This proved that little knowledge can be really disastrous
  4. Biotechnology does not seem to be priority for religious agencies
As I always preach for a sector to be developed, all areas should be given importance, not just the key areas such as research, development and commercialisation. The peripheral areas are even more important as it can take us off guard just as the technology is ready to be launched. For example, what is point of having successfully developed a GM crop, when the market is not ready to accept it, or when our religious authority is not fully equipped with the right knowledge to assess it halal-ness?

The peripheral areas such as public communication, awareness, science literacy and trust among the public and other stakeholders has to be developed. This does not just rely on one ministry or agencies, but the effort should be a coherent one from various parties. Are we ready to take up the challenge to work together and forgo the territorial behaviour rampant among our institutes?

As GM crops are gaining more acreage and Malaysian is a big food importer, better understanding of biotechnology among religious scholars must be given a priority if Malaysia wants to ensure informed decisions are made on the halal-ness of GM food.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan


Sarah said...

Nice to see that companies like MABIC had organized the workshop for an Agri Biotech. This workshop will definitely help to understand biotechnology. Best of luck to MABIC team.

religion and food said...

There is little doubt, as well, that our food system is desperately in need of an overhaul and that, in too many cases, profit has been put well before the needs of the public