Bt farce exposed
After holding a series of public consultations before taking a decision on release of Bt brinjal, the first Bt food crop that was about to be introduced in India, union environment minister Jairam Ramesh faced a huge outcry from activists, scientists, farmers, and general public. He finally put a moratorium on the release of this genetically modified vegetable. The moratorium, however, should not be misunderstood for a ban as it has been imposed only till such a time that independent scientific studies establish the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment. The minister has undoubtedly set a good precedent by holding public consultations, which in any case should be mandatory in cases where health and livelihoods of people are involved.
Earlier, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) had cleared the release of Bt brinjal, being promoted by Mahyco, in collaboration with the US based transnational Monsanto. Mahyco in this case is nothing more than a foot soldier of Monsanto.
Professor Pushpa Bhargava, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and GEAC’s only independent expert appointed by the Supreme Court, was the key speaker at an Independent People’s Tribunal organised in Delhi where a distinguished panel heard experts and farmers on Bt brinjal issue. Bhargava emphatically said that the ultimate goal of Bt brinjal in India is to obtain control over Indian agriculture while charging that a majority of the necessary bio-safety tests were not conducted by the GEAC before it gave its clearance. Regulatory authorities simply don’t know about the long-term health and environmental effects of GM foods to certify it as safe. Mr TV Jagadisan, former managing director of Monsanto, south Asia, is another strong voice arguing that foreign investment and MNCs interests are the only driving forces pushing GM research in India.
The minister’s decision followed the stiff resistance and well founded opposition to Bt brinjal from all quarters. Such crops are banned in many countries, though widely grown in others. There are major concerns about possible after effects on health through food chain as well as on ecology. A number of farmers that deposed before the People’s Tribunal testified to the fact that India’s experience with Bt cotton has proved to be a disaster for farmers where commercial cultivation was allowed without proper safety evaluation, leading to unabated use of GM seeds of all kinds. On the other hand, the cottonseeds that were indigenously grown and were available free few years back are simply not accessible today.
The market forces that stand to gain from such technology argue that banning Bt brinjal will discourage private sector research and hence investment in GM foods. That is why the major concern with the Bt brinjal should be seen in the context of market control and monopolisation of GM crop techniques by large private corporations, mainly from the developed world. This amounts to mortgaging the interest of farmers and compromising food security as well as sovereignty of the country. The major issue here that demands attention is of complete corporate control on agriculture where GM seeds cannot be reproduced by farmers who find themselves shackled in the vicious cycle created by these biotechnology megacorps. The farmer is forced to rely on them to sow new crops and thus he loses control over seed, price and distribution of his produce. All the while corporations reap rich harvest.
This issue of Combat Law is a compilation of testimonies at Independent People’s Tribunal which recorded diverse voices of scientists, farmers, victims of Bt cotton cultivation, activists, journalists and others. They see the Bt debate in the context of the larger pattern that India is following by protecting the interests of transnational companies. Where our government is actually working as a collaborator with corporations, compromising the food security and livelihoods of millions of farmers and their families at the altar of international trade and development. That is why the people of this country have decided to dump the Bt brinjal into the sea – lock, stock and barrel.
- Harsh Dobhal