Agro-view The ecological disaster in GM crops

By Achyut Railkar

THE researcher, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company Mahyco and US biotech Giant Corporation Monsanto (MM) claim that genetically modified (GM) food reduces usage of pesticide during the growth of the output. MM alters DNA by introduction of an extra gene, Cry1Ac for cotton, brinjal or other crops to form GM. The insecticide is derived from a soil bacterium bacillus thuringiensis. The hybrid crop is also called as Bt cotton or Bt brinjal.

After the permission for Bt cotton in the country MM hopes to get consent from the government for Bt brinjal. World Bank and WTO probably pressurise central government to adopt GM crops. MM and other companies try to create property rights in the name of GM crops. The European and many more countries oppose GM food cultivation.

Now after eight years of Bt cotton cultivation covering almost 95 per cent cotton farms in the country, it has run into trouble. Cattle in Punjab and Haryana fell sick after consuming Bt cotton leaves. The cultivators allege that Bt cotton has created allergies and rise in asthma and rash troubles among them.

The Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) had found in 2005 that resistance of Bt cotton goes down after some period. MM’s scientists have detected survival of a type of pink coloured pest known as bollworm while monitoring the 2009 Bt cotton crop in four districts of Gujarat.

MM misinterprets that GM seeds increase the yield. The three year observation of 87 villages indicate that non-Bt cotton seeds had 30 per cent more yield and its cost of production is 40 per cent less. Because of high cost of production on Bt cotton, 32000 farmers had suicidal deaths across the country during the period 2001 to 2005. Only Bt seeds do not offer more yield, it has to spend for power, fertilizers and irrigation also.

The question on everyone’s lips is why is the government so keen to allow US corporations like MM to privatise the basis of our food production based on seed system?

Even more horrifying is that in some cotton growing areas in the country, only GM seed is available for farmers and they are at MM’s mercy. When rising costs of inputs are making agriculture unviable and causing farmer suicides, it is absurd to promote seed replacement. GM seeds are four to five times more expensive than normal certified seeds because GM seed’s price covers MM’s proprietary right charges (PR).

After a period of 3-5 years, all brinjal growing areas will be contaminated and the gene will have crossed over into tomato, potato and other crops and PR would apply. After Bt cotton and Bt brinjal MM would plan to tamper with bhindi, rice and many other crops with the same methods. Once its cultivation becomes widespread, there is no looking back because genes released into the environment cannot be recalled even by God.

But the introduction of GM brinjal has convulsed the government into action. Is brinjal production one of the government’s priorities? There is no crisis in brinjal production; we have more than enough of brinjal. Its agenda probably has been decided by MM. Brinjal has been cultivated in India for the past 4000 years and the area under cultivation is around 500,000 hectares. India produces 9 million tonnes of brinjal every year and the farmers and consumers both are happy as it has innumerable varieties and tastes.

Indian agricultural experts negate Bt cotton’s success story and say gene merely helps to keep pests at bay. GM crops essentially need chemical fertilizers (CF) in abundance and the CF kills the productivity of the land gradually. The unfortunate fact is that farmers ought to buy GM seeds and CF from MM’s representatives, which obviously benefits MM or any other seed supplier by high profits through PR.

Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India’s biotech regulator, cleared Bt Brinjal on October 14, 2009. However there is a lot of opposition after this:

  1. Many activists sent more than 40000 e-mails to Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) accusing him of having sold out to biotech companies. The expert Biologist and Supreme Court appointed observer PM Bhargava commented that GEAC’s decision was pre-decided and farcical.
  2. The Chief Ministers of the 13 states, which have almost over 75 per cent share of brinjal production in the country, officially conveyed to the Centre that they do not want their farmers to grow the Bt brinjal. The opponents also argued that the tests required to dispel fears about adverse consequences on human health had not been done satisfactorily.
  3. During April 2010, NGO Greenpeace held the survey of around 5600 individuals on various socio-economic levels from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Guwahati and Indore. It found that an overwhelming 89 per cent of people believe they have the right to protest against the GM food. The introduction of GM foods has tremendous health effects. It can lead to cancer, allergies, birth defects and disability. Some studies on Bt food have shown lung, kidney and liver damage in lab rats.

The opponents give us a clear indication that we need an impartial and independent agency, which is democratic and transparent, and has a mandate to put people’s health, biosafety, food security and environment before corporate interests.

On February 9, 2010, MoEF imposed a moratorium on the cultivation of BT brinjal after experiencing huge opposition. However the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill (BRAI) takes away the right to say no to GM food. The government should therefore withdraw BRAI Bill as it is termed as blatant subversion of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression.

On the contrary, it shows that the developing countries have benefited in the crops of Organic type of Food (OF). South Brazil has doubled the yields for maize and wheat crop. Mexico has increased production by over 60 per cent. Today New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, European countries, Latin America are leading countries, for growing OF. India is in 4th position which has 3 million hectares of cropland for OF.

OF has self-developing capacity of regenerating seeds, power and manures. It reduces emission of green house gas and can control climatic changes. It preserves all the varieties of the different crops unlike GM food. OF is a win-win proposal. It builds the soil instead of depleting it. It takes the assistance of soil fauna and microbes. It rejects synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and grows safe and nutritious food.

Briton’s Lancaster University and Stock-bridge Technology Centre research shows, if the seeds are kept in jasmonic acid for some period, they develop the power of repelling insects and there is no need of GM foods.

GM crops spell a bleak and grim future for OF. The certifying agencies will refuse to certify OF grown adjacent to GM foods. By killing OF in this manner, we would kill ecologically developed agriculture.

The government’s decision of stopping Bt brinjal cultivation appears temporary and the issue may trigger any time because BRAI Bill is not yet withdrawn by the government. The people therefore have to be alert on the issue of GM food to save the agriculture in the country. We should encourage OF that would preserve ecological balance. Indian scientists should carry out independent biotechnological research and tests to wipe out the danger of GM foods.

 

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