The argument that India needs GM technology to feed its increasing population is fallacious, writes Pushpa M. Bhargava, founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad
The US wants to control food production in India and around the world by marketing patented GM seeds, writes Pushpa M. Bhargava (item 1 below).
Vandana Shiva writes that Monsanto and its lobbyists are today’s Church and independent scientists speaking the truth about GMOs and their impacts are today’s Galileos (item 2 below).
Sign international petition to stop field trials of GM crops in India:
1. US is trying to control our food production
2. The Galileo syndrome?
1. US is trying to control our food production
Pushpa M Bhargava
Hindustan Times, August 7, 2014
While virtually every statement made by G Padmanaban in India should not shut itself to GM crops (August 7) can be contradicted by incontrovertible facts, I will confine my remarks to the following points that would argue against his major contentions.
Bt cotton is far from having been an unqualified success in India. It has worked only in irrigated areas and not in rain-fed regions that represent two-thirds of the area under cotton cultivation in the country. Out of over 270,000 farmers’ suicides, a substantial number has been of Bt cotton farmers. In Andhra Pradesh, there have been deaths of thousands of cattle that grazed on the remnants of Bt cotton plants after harvesting of cotton. Resistance to pests in Bt cotton has developed over the years. Further, there has been a marked increase in the number of secondary pests such as mealy bug, and the soil where Bt cotton has been grown over a prolonged period has become incapable of sustaining any other crop. What is amazing (and raises important questions) is why we didn’t use established alternatives such as integrated pest management for cotton, instead of using untested Bt technology.
The Central government departments that have been acting as peddlers of GM technology — probably in collusion with the MNCs marketing GM seeds — have shown little respect for law. Thus, Bt cotton seeds were sold to farmers before they were formally approved by the government in 2002, but nothing was done about it.
Ninety per cent of the member countries of the United Nations, including almost all countries of Europe, haven’t permitted GM crops or unlabelled GM food. Once the labelling is there, people would not buy the food.
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 the United States, where GM food (such as corn and soya) has been consumed for over 15 years, there has been a continuous rise in the incidence of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. While this does not establish a cause and effect relationship, it does not rule out this possibility, particularly in the light of what has been argued in the previous section.
The argument that we need GM technology to feed the increasing population of India is fallacious. Even with low productivity, which can be increased, we even now produce sufficient grain in the country to take care of our requirement, if only we do not allow 40% of our food produce to be wasted and everyone has the resources to buy the needed food. And we can double our food production by using non-GM technologies, such as molecular breeding.
We have no guidelines that would be scientifically valid and stringent enough for testing GM crops for safety. For example, few chronic toxicity tests have been done anywhere on GM food crops. Whenever these tests have been done, GM food has been shown to lead to cancer.
It is well-known that the US would like to control food production around the world by marketing patented GM seeds. Sixty-four per cent of our population derive their sustenance from agriculture-related activities. Therefore, whosoever controls Indian agriculture would control the country. To control our agriculture, one needs to control only seeds and agro-chemicals.
The MNCs that sell GM seeds that are protected by intellectual property rights also sell agro-chemicals. If we allow such MNCs to control our seed production, we would surely de facto lose our freedom.
Do we need more arguments against GM crops?
Pushpa M Bhargava is founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and currently the chairman of the Council for Social Development, Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad
2. The Galileo syndrome?
The Asian Age, 8 Aug 2014
Prakash Javadekar said, "Galileo was telling the truth and he was punished". Monsanto and its lobbyists are today’s Church. And independent scientists speaking the truth about GMOs and their impact on society, health and environment are today’s Galileos.
Speaking at the launch of the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the Energy and Resources Institute, Union minister of state for environment Prakash Javadekar said, “We have not said no to science. Nobody can say no to science. Yes we have to take proper caution, we have to take proper action. But you cannot deny it. We are not living in Galileo’s times. Galileo was telling the truth and he was punished.”
With genetically modified organisms, we could be having another Galileo moment. American biotechnology corporation Monsanto and its lobbyists are today’s Church. And independent scientists speaking the truth about GMOs and their impact on society, health, and environment are today’s Galileos.
GMOs are mired in controversy because their introduction is based on violation of law, democracy, and science.
In India, the debate on GMOs started with the illegal introduction of Bt cotton by American biotechnology corporation Monsanto in 1998.
It intensified when Monsanto/Mahyco tried to introduce Bt brinjal in 2010. And when the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh tried to introduced a moratorium, he was removed.
The debate returned when Jayanthi Natarajan was removed as environment minister in December 2013 because she refused to sign on the dotted line with the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar to allow GMO field trials in a joint affidavit to the Supreme Court in the GMO case.
M. Veerappa Moily succeeded her. Mr Moily rushed through approvals just before the term of United Progressive Alliance-2 was nearing its end.
Under the new National Democratic Alliance government, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) approved further trials on July 18. This was contrary to what the Bharatiya Janata Party had stated in its manifesto released on April 7, 2014, “GM foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation on the long-term effects on soil, production and biological impact on consumers.”
In 1998, the MNC Monsanto — in collaboration with Mahyco — started illegal field trials of Bt cotton with the intention of commercialising it in India. As long as the genetic engineering is taking place in labs, the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) governs the approval. The moment trials are conducted in an open environment, as the case is with these trials, approvals should be sought from the GEAC governed by the ministry of environment and forests active under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
When Monsanto started field trials in 1998, it did not seek approval of the GEAC. So I filed a PIL on January 6, 1999. My NGO Navdanya also started a movement in August 9, 1998 with the call “Monsanto Quit India”.
This is still our call because Monsanto and its GMOs can only exist in India by violating India’s democracy, laws and the independence and sovereignty of Indian science.
After a study of GMOs for over four years, the multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture had recommended for a ban on GM food crops in India stating they had no role in a country of small farmers.
A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court by environmentalist Aruna Rodrigues to stop GMO field trials until independent assessment and a robust regulatory process evolved.
The Supreme Court appointed a technical expert committee (TEC) which recommended an indefinite moratorium on the field trials of GM crops till the government came out with a proper regulatory and safety mechanism, the same has not been done till date.
So far, all assessments are done by the company itself and the results are cooked up. It was evident in the case Navdanya filed to challenge the illegal Bt cotton trials that pests like Aphids and Jassids were increasing, but the company reported no increase. It was clear in the case of Bt brinjal that there is impact of organ damage, but the company wrote “no impact”. That is why independent assessment is vital for biosafety.
Members of the SC/TEC include top scientists of India, who head high-level scientific institutes specialising in the diverse disciplines. Dr Imran Siddiqui of the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Prof. P.S. Ramakrishnan, professor emeritus at JNU, Prof. P.C. Kesavan Genetics Toxicology are a few names.
The scientific imperative demands that the recommendations of the highest scientific committee of the highest court of the land, the TEC, be implemented. The core recommendations are:
* Moratorium on GMO field trials “the examination/study of the safety dossiers, it is apparent that there are major gaps in the regulatory system. Till such time it would not be advisable to conduct more field trials.
* There should be a moratorium on field trials for Bt in food crops.
* Herbicide Tolerant Crops: The TEC finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context and recommends that field trials and release of HT crops not be allowed in India.
* Crops in their centre of origin or diversity: The TEC recommends that the release of GM crops for which India is a centre of origin or diversity should not be allowed.
Among the GMO crops approved for field trials are rice, maize, chickpea, sugarcane, and brinjal. India is a centre of diversity of all these crops except maize.
The experience of GMO cotton has already shown us the high costs to farmers of GMO propriety seeds for which Monsanto collects royalties. GMOs have failed the socio-economic test.
We carried out a study on the soil impact of Bt cotton and found beneficial organisms had been destroyed. In the US, the destruction of beneficial soil organisms has led to emergence of pathogens which are leading to stillbirths and abortions in animals that are fed GMOs as feed.
There is no consensus on safety of GMOs. Tumours, organ failure, and damage to the digestive tract have been shown to be associated with GMOs by independent researchers across the world. Monsanto goes after every scientist doing independent research on safety.
Monsanto and the biotechnology industry keeps promoting illegal introduction of untested GMOs as “science”. Suppressing facts is not science. Manipulating truth is not science. Hounding scientists is not science.
Real science is based on full and independent investigations of GMOs on the socio-economic impact on small farmers, ecological impact on the environment, including biodiversity in soil, of pollinators, of plants and health impact on humans and animals.
India needs to take up its own safety tests that do not need field trials and can be carried out in the lab.
I call for a moratorium on GMO trials, as recommended by the TEC appointed by the Supreme Court. All we are asking for is full scientific evaluation, in accordance with recommendations of TEC. The GMO lobby is trying to suppress the TEC recommendations. Is it an extension of the Galileo syndrome?
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya