Tuesday, August 14, 2012


What has been suspected long ago has turned out to be true going by the recent criticism of GM crops by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture in India. In a stinging commentary on the scientific groups that cleared Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal, the Committee called for a thorough investigation into its action, implying that the decision to give clearance was based on considerations other than interests of the consumer and the farmer. It is rare that law makers in India take so much interest in matters related to common man and it deserves full kudos for this yeoman service to the nation. It may be recalled that Bt Brinjal almost got through the clearance mechanism of the government and would have become a source of danger to the farming community but for sustained hostility shown by many renowned scientists, consumers and social activists. Wisdom did dawn finally on the Environment Minister of GOI to deny permission for cultivation of GM Brinjal after a series of public debates in some of the cities during 2010. Here is a report on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee that may have far reaching implications for future efforts by vested interests to introduce GM technology based agricultural crops.  

"In a major setback to the proponents of genetically modified technology in farm crops, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on Thursday asked the government to stop all field trials and sought a bar on GM food crops (such as Bt. brinjal). The committee report, tabled in the Lok Sabha, demanded a "thorough probe" into how permission was given to commercialise Bt. brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not carried out. It said there were indications of a "collusion of the worst kind from the beginning till the imposition of a moratorium on its commercialisation in February, 2010, by the then Minister for Environment and Forests." The report came a day after Maharashtra cancelled Mahyco's licence to sell its Bt. cotton seeds. It flayed the government for not discussing the issue in Parliament and observed that the Ministry failed in its responsibility by introducing such a policy, ignoring the interests of the 70 per cent small and marginal farmers. The report criticised the composition and regulatory role of the Genetic Engineering Approval (Appraisal) Committee and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM). According to Committee chairman Basudeb Acharia, there is not a single note of dissent in the report of the 31-member panel, including nine from the Congress and six from the BJP. Observing that GM crops (such as Bt. cotton) benefited the (seed) industry without a "trickle-down" gain to farmers, it recommended that till all concerns were addressed, further research and development should be done only in contained conditions. Citing instances of conflict of interest of various stakeholders, the panel said the government must put in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight and surveillance systems. Raising the "ethical dimensions" of transgenics in agricultural crops, as well as studies of a long-term environmental and chronic toxicology impact, the panel noted that there were no significant socio-economic benefits to farmers. On the contrary, farmers have incurred huge debts because of this capital-intensive practice. "Today, 93 per cent of the area is under Bt. cotton because no alternative seeds are available," Mr. Acharia said".

It is very true that more than 80% of the food crops in the United States are raised through GM crop seeds and one may argue that nothing untoward has happened so far to the population there. A counter question can logically be raised as to why GM crops have not been approved universally except in the US and a handful of other countries in this Universe, if it is absolutely safe?. The terrible tragedy that is facing the cotton farmers in India is a classical example of government policies imposed on farmers without giving adequate thought to the damage that can be caused in the long term. To day the cotton cultivators are facing penury because the GM version they used did not get them any where and traditional cotton seeds of assured viability are in short supply. Without going into the merits and demerits of GM technology, it is suffice to say that unless GM foods are proved safe conclusively or its potential to increase crop yields significantly at comparable costs confirmed, no country should accept the same unreservedly. The fact that GM seeds are produced by a couple of monolithic transnational agricultural giants, with a track record of deception and arm twisting, makes the matter worse. There must be a global public initiative under the banner of FAO of the UN to look into Genetic Engineering science in toto and the GM seeds, if found advantageous in any way with assured safety, should be made a common property universally accessible, in stead being monopolistic ownership as it exists to day.


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