Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Response to the PM’s pitch for GM crops at the Science Congress, Jammu

Suman Sahai


It is extremely disappointing that our PM has chosen to make such a strong pitch in favour of GM foods and trashed those who hold different views on the acceptability of such foods as “unscientific prejudices”. The current Prime Minister is a specialist in agriculture and among the most highly educated political leaders of today. He knows more than most about the large and diverse set of problems that beset Indian agriculture. Does the Prime Minister seriously believe that GM crops are necessary to solve all the problems of Indian agriculture and ensure food security? And are GM crops the silver bullets to solve the problems of hunger and malnutrition? 

This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has used the Science Congress to throw his weight behind the promotion of GM crops. His Agriculture Minister does it regularly too. Mr Pawar’s first response after the passage of the Food Security Act (FSA) was to state that India could not meet the targets set by the FSA unless it adopted GM crops. It would be helpful if the Prime Minister and his office would also engage with the concerns expressed by several scientists, members of civil society, farmer organizations and concerned citizens about the safety and desirability of these crops. These are not unscientific prejudices, they are most often, genuine concerns arising from a high level of familiarity with the scientific evidence of harm resulting from the consumption of GM foods. The results from feeding studies done on animals, in many parts of the world are available in the public domain and they show the risks that can be associated with eating GM foods.

Informed scientific opinion has expressed itself repeatedly that research on farming systems and supporting better farm practices, together with reviving the extension support to farmers and strengthening market linkages are the key to making farming profitable and banishing hunger.

It is deeply disappointing that a Prime Minister as erudite as ours has willfully chosen to indulge in biased rhetoric and espouse the controversial, as yet unproven contribution that GM crops can make to hunger and malnutrition.

Gene Campaign believes that any technology including GM technology can at best provide a solution to a particular problem when it is implemented with extreme caution and stringent biosafety testing. It can in no way provide answers to a complex situation like hunger. 

5 comments:

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  2. Very well written Dr. Sahai

    I am of Indian origin and an engineer based in British Columbia, Canada, and a food security and anti-GMO activist. I would like to speak with you, for an audio podcast for Canadian listeners, as well as for my education on some specifics which I hope you can help with.

    I accompanied two scientists (Dr. Shiv Chopra and Dr. Thierry Vrain) in Nov/Dec 2013 going to 40 towns in British Columbia and Alberta, on a talk tour to alert people about dangers of GMO. The two scientists spoke while I was the logistics man, videographer and go to person.

    Coming spring summer and fall the talk tour is to continue to the rest of Canada, with Dr. Thierry Vrain and myself, where I too am required to speak. It is for this that I need to catch up on some details that I am hoping you could help with.

    I also interview scientists and social activists around the world, mostly on sustainable agriculture or GMO/pesticide issues, and put up either audio podcast, or video or blog on my site (tonu.org).

    I have spoken with the following people in India, and converted or am converting them into video or audio podcasts:
    1. PM Bhargava, biologist
    2. Devinder Sharma, agriculture analyst.
    3. Debal Deb - scientist and rice seed preserver.
    4. Aruna Rodrigues, who is fighting the govt at supreme court abt GMO
    5. Leo Saldana of ESG, Bangalore that took Govt of india to court to prove Mahico/Monsanto had violated India's biodiversity preservation act when developing Bt. Brinjal and needed to be prosecuted.
    6. Mr. Satheesh of DDS.

    I am also connected with some Canada based sustainable agriculture NGOs (Fertile Ground - http://www.fertile-ground.org/) that work in Assam promoting organic farm practices in the tea belt, helping them to get away from the chemical dependent high input model they use there.

    I would like to get a chance to speak to you, on record for podcast if you will allow, or off record, to learn more of your work, as well as learn about how India got to formulate the biological diversity preservation act of 2002, specifics of the act, what influence the effort had (or not) from UN Cartagena protocol guidelines etc.

    Canada is way behind in these fields and it is my intension to talk to the people on the western Tour of Canada and highlight a few pointers of what other countries, such as India, have done.

    I hope you will spare some time - may be 30 to 45 minutes on a date and time of your choice and I can call you up of your choice of telephone number.

    I can be reached at tony.mitra@gmail.com or +1-604-649 7535

    Thanking you
    Tony Mitra

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  3. Dr. Sahai,
    Thank you for your views, which I entirely endorse. Much before the debate on GM even begins we need to address the relatively easier options to increase food availability, beginning with safer and durable storage for the food we produce. I understand that our covered food storage is only about 55 million tonnes, against a grain stockage of over 80 million tonnes. Assuming a 10% loss of the remaining grain implies 2.5 million tonnes of food wasted.

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