Saturday, November 26, 2011


Remember about the bt Brinjal controversy last year when the MNC giant Monsanto through its local collaborator tried to unleash its GM based version of this common man's vegetable on the Indian field? What followed was literally a circus in which many performers like GOI Ministers, scientists and consumers had "consultation" meetings in different cities in order to enable the government to take a "decision". It is another matter that eventually the MNC had to bite the dust as necessary permission was not granted. Now comes the news of another " circus" like performance by the GOI on the very same issue but this time GOI is aggressively "chasing" the MNC by slapping an unheard legal notice blaming it for "Biopiracy"! How long this circus will last and whether it is animosity to the MNC or love for the domestic brinjal grower that has prompted the government to pursue the legal case, no one knows. Right now there seems to be a lull in the front and one has to wait and see whether this is the beginning of another scam involving bt Brinjal clearance first, then legal action against the very company and present "inaction" to pursue the case. It is interesting to note the tortuous route GM crops are facing in India and the ultimate outcome remains an uncertainty.

"Add a new word to your lexicon: Biopiracy. That's what U.S.-based agribusiness giant Monsanto has been accused of in India, where the government is planning to charge the company with violating the country's biodiversity laws over a genetically modified version of eggplant. In doing so, India has placed itself at the focal point of the movement to challenge genetically modified crops, which opponents say are destroying traditional crops and threatening farmers' livelihoods. "This can send a … message to the big companies [that] they are violating the laws of the nation," K.S. Sugara of the Karnataka Biodiversity Board told France 24 (see video below). "It is not acceptable … that the farmers in our communities are robbed of the advantage they should get from the indigenous varieties." India announced last month it is pursuing charges against Monsanto for "stealing" an indigenous crop -- eggplant -- and using it to create a modified version without permission, a violation of India's decade-old Biological Diversity Act. It's the first prosecution of a company for the act of "biopiracy" in the country, and possibly the world. At the heart of the issue is the phenomenon of the commercialization of indigenous knowledge. Indian farmers argue that they developed the strains of eggplant grown in India over generations, and Monsanto has no right to come in and build a product out of their own indigenous species. Monsanto took locally-grown eggplant "without any conformance with the biological diversity act, and therefore it is biopiracy," said Leo Saldanha, director of the Environmental Support Group, an Indian NGO. Saldanha filed the initial complaint that prompted India to pursue charges".

If "Biopiracy" becomes an internationally accepted crime, no GM food will ever be successful in any country due to local opposition. Looking back, the farmers using bt Cotton have ruined themselves by massive crop failures and no farmer in his right sense will support a government that encourages introduction of GM versions of any agricultural crops fearing unknown consequences. GM crops are receiving global attention, rightly or wrongly and there are wide differences in the perspectives of scientists themselves regarding the potential for the technology to address the world food shortages. Added to this are apprehensions regarding safety aspects and impact on biodiversity.
Preservation of germ plasm in many countries is intended to protect the indigenous varieties evolved over hundreds of years and the geographic patenting system prevents foreign players from using them without legal clearance from the country concerned. India should try to patent its unique crops which only can protect them from "poaching" by GM crop developers. 


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