Farmers’ Organisations Oppose GM Crops

Bharat Dogra

While several farmers' organisations, health and environment groups and other citizens have been working hard for several years with dedication for opposition of GM crops and for protecting our farming from the onslaught of multinational companies trying to dominate world agriculture using these crops, a few farmer groups known in the past for their closeness to agribusiness interests have unfortunately decided to push the agenda of the giant GM multinationals. These groups are doing this despite the widely recognized fact that these multinationals are trying to dominate the world food systems at high costs to health, environment and food security. This was seen recently seen in the form of some groups being incited in illegal attempts to promote the cultivation of GM food crops which are not legally approved.

Several leading farmer organisations were alarmed by this and they have voiced their clear opposition to this. On July 15 several of them got together to organise a press conference at Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi. At this press conference prominent farmer leaders of India cautioned the government that if it does not take strong action to stop illegal GM crop cultivation, they would be forced to take up country-wide agitations. Releasing a letter written to the apex regulatory body for gene technologies, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), they demanded that the event developer be made legally liable for any illegal GM crop cultivation in the country.

Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union said, “We will strongly resist any move to bring in GM crops into the country, including through illegal cultivation, as was the case with Bt cotton in India. This is a clear case where government has to take a sane policy decision, using a precautionary approach and ensure that GMOs do not jeopardies our environmental sustainability, or farmer livelihoods or consumer health”.

Badrinarayan Chaudhary of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) asked the government not to fall prey to fake farmers’ organisations and their demands in favour of GM crops. “This is a case of failed and hazardous technologies that are trying to be introduced through a backdoor route, entrapping desperate and poor farmers. The ones who are encouraging farmers to opt for, and grow illegal GM seeds are actually taking an anti-national step and, in a way, this is bio-terrorism. We, as aware farmer unions, who are working for the benefit of farmers, demand that the government take strong measures to curb the spread of illegal GM seeds in India”, he said.

Kapil Shah of Jatan organisation, Gujarat said, “Our regulators need to ensure that their primary mandate, that of protecting citizens from the risks of modern biotechnology, is fulfilled fully. We need standard operating procedures to be put into place to make sure that every concerned agency knows its duties and what it has to do when illegal GM cultivation is discovered. We need our labs to be better equipped with all primers and protocols for all events in the experimental pipeline being deposited, so that liability can be fixed squarely on event developers for any GM seed leakage. We need a rule to be notified under the Environment Protection Act 1986 to clearly fix liability on event developers”.

Kavitha Kuruganti of Coalition for a GM-Free India said that stopping the sales of glyphosate will go a long way in curbing the spread of illegal GM cotton seed. “This step is much-needed not only to ensure that illegal GM cultivation can be restricted, but also because glyphosate has many harmful impacts on human health and environment.

A letter signed by several farmer union leaders, including the BJP Kisan Morcha, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Union, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Agragami Kisan Sabha, AIKKS and Swadeshi Jagaran Manch to the Chairperson of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee was released to the media, which included a demand to bring new gene technologies like Genome Editing under the purview of regulations under EPA 1989 Rules in India.

A Delegation also met with the GEAC officials in MoEFCC on July 12th 2019 to put forward their demands for regulatory improvements.

All the time some of the most eminent scientists have been warning against GM crops but at the same time these powerful companies along with their influential collaborators in the government and the media have been claiming that the scientific evidence is on their side. So the common people are sometimes confused regarding whom to believe. This confusion can be cleared by looking at what the most eminent scientist of India on this subject said shortly before his death. This scientist was the most well-informed scientist in India on this subject. Our reference here is of course to Dr. Pushpa Bhargava.

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.

Therefore, it is very useful and interesting to see what this very senior scientist with a comprehensive understanding of this issue had to say about GM crops. First of all he made a strong and clear effort to break the myth which had been created by relentless manipulation by the very powerful forces trying to spread GM crops In India. According to this myth most scientific research supports GM crops. While demolishing this myth 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.”

Elsewhere in this article he commented, “The central government departments that have been acting as peddlers of GM technology-probably in collusion with MNCs marketing GM seeds—have shown little respect for law.”

In a review of recent trends titled 'Food Without Choice' (published in the Tribune) Prof. Pushpa M. Bhargava , who was an internationally acclaimed authority on this subject, 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."

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Jul 28, 2019

Bharat Dogra

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