Cultivation of Highly Hazardous GM Crops Should Be Checked

Bharat Dogra

When something illegal takes place, the apparent response should be to stop this.

But what shall we say about those  persons who raise a cry of something illegal taking place , and then tell the government to change its laws and policy in such a way that illegal becomes legal!

This is not a joke. This has actually happened in the context of GM (genetically modified) crops in India. As is well known several prestigious scientists and groups of scientists have issued strongly worded statements exposing the many-sided health hazards of GM crops for health, environment, food and agricultural system.

Despite this the billion-dollar industry which wants to control world food and agriculture by spreading GM crops has been trying its best with the help of its collaborators to spread GM crops. It is in this context that the entire recent debate on spreading of illegal GM crops should be seen. There can be only one response to spread of illegal crops and this is to stop it. But some influential persons went on saying that since this illegal cultivation is taking place the government should make GM crop cultivation legal!

The hazards of GM crops should be considered together with the hazards of the various chemical pesticides and herbicides which are promoted alongside  these crops. A recent legal case which has attracted worldwide attention  relates to the award of  huge compensation to Johnson, a school groundskeeper, by a California jury on account of his health being damaged severely by a herbicide glyphosate which this groundskeeper had to use regularly, resulting in very painful and life-threatening blood-cell cancer. There was widespread sympathy for this victim.

For people involved in food safety issues this case had an additional significance. The herbicide in question is produced  most prominently by a multinational company  which is also in the forefront of the spread of genetically modified (GM) crops. It has been involved in providing packages in which the company’s GM seeds are closely tied to the marketing of the disputed herbicide whose serious health hazards had been the subject of much debate earlier also. In the course of the hearings of  this case , however, it became increasingly clear that the so-called scientific evidence of safety of its products by which the giant multinational company had been swearing had many holes in it and at times its own findings were being passed off as the opinion of reputed scientists.

As some multinational companies appear to be so determined to gain increasing domination of the world food and farming markets by relentless lobbying for GM crops and agri-chemicals tied to these crops, it is important to look carefully at the scientific evidence  on this subject. All the time some of the most eminent scientists have been warning against GM crops. It is important to recall what the most eminent scientist of India Dr. Pushpa Bhargava said on this subject said shortly before his death.

Dr. Pushpa M. Bhargava was the founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and in addition he was also the Vice Chairperson of the National Knowledge Commission. Many people’s science movements looked upon him as their mentor. He had been appointed by the Supreme Court of India as an observer in the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee as he was widely perceived to be not only a very accomplished expert on this issue and that too of the highest integrity but in addition he was also seen on the basis of his past record as a very strong and persistent defender of public interest.

Dr. Bhargava wrote, “There are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health, and on the environment and biodiversity. For example, a recent paper by Indian scientists showed that the Bt gene in both cotton and brinjal leads to inhibition of growth and development of the plant. On the other hand, virtually every paper supporting GM crops is by scientists who have a declared conflict of interest or whose credibility and integrity can be doubted.”

In another review of recent trends titled 'Food Without Choice' (published in the Tribune) Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava drew pointed attention to the "attempt by a small but powerful minority to propagate genetically modified  crops to serve their interests and those of multinational corporations  (read the US), the bureaucracy, the political setup and a few unprincipled and unethical scientists and technologists who can be used as tools." Further he  warned, "The ultimate goal of this attempt in India of which the leader is Monsanto, is to obtain control over Indian agriculture and thus food production. With 60 per cent of our population engaged in agriculture and living in villages, this would essentially mean not only a control over our food security but also over our farmer security, agricultural security and security of the rural sector."

The strong stand of Dr. Bhargava against GM crops is supported by other eminent scientists in various parts of world. A group of eminent scientists organized under the Independent Science Panel have stated in very clear terms, "GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now."

The Independent Science Panel (ISP) is a panel of scientists from many disciplines and countries, committed to the promotion of science for the public good. In a document titled 'The case for a GMO-free Sustainable World' the ISP has stated further, "By far the most insidious dangers of genetic engineering are inherent to the process itself, which greatly enhances the scope and probability of horizontal gene transfer and recombination, the main route to creating viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics. This was highlighted, in 2001, by the 'accidental' creation of a killer mouse virus in the course of an apparently innocent genetic engineering experiment. Newer techniques, such as DNA shuffling, are allowing geneticists to create in a matter of minutes in the laboratory millions of recombinant viruses that have never existed in billions of years of evolution. Disease-causing viruses and bacteria and their genetic material are the predominant materials and tools for genetic engineering, as much as for the intentional creation of bio-weapons.”

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.    

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Aug 2, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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