India to promote more GMOs
Feb. 9, 2011
India is planning to replace the rules under the Environment Protection Act with a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) Act. This will give genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) fast-track approvals and throw its critics into jail. The recently-appointed minister of science and technology, Ashwini Kumar, has announced that the Government of India is planning to introduce four bills in the upcoming Budget session — Brai Bill, DNA Profiling Bill, Regional Centre for Biotechnology Bill and the Public Funded R&D (Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property) Bill. The Prime Minister’s Office has already written to various state governments suggesting partnerships with corporations in the seed sector. This rush to push genetically-modified and patented seeds ignores evidence that GMOs will not be able to provide food security. Genetically-engineered seeds are patented. Patents allow companies to collect royalties. This increases the price of seed. Patents also force the farmer to buy seed every year. This pushes up the price of seed and traps farmers in debt. Debt has already pushed 250,000 Indian farmers to suicide in the last 15 years. Citizens as consumers also pay a very high price. They are forced to eat food with toxic genes. Biodiversity is replaced with uniformity; Taste and quality are replaced with hazards; and freedom to choose is replaced with force feeding.
A serious issue related to GMOs is conflict of interest. In fact, WikiLeaks recently released a communication where the US ambassador in Paris, Craig Stapleton, a close friend and business partner of then President George Bush, is urging the White House to launch a military-style trade war against GM sceptics in Europe. “Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the European Union since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits”, he wrote. America’s science and technology adviser Nina Fedoroff was sent to India in February 2010 to try and prevent the moratorium on Bt brinjal. At the Biotechnology Industry Organisation’s annual convention in May 2010, Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, US, told several hundred attendees from around the world that the US state department will aggressively confront critics of agricultural biotechnology as the United States seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The US-based multinational seed giant Monsanto which has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with six states, controls 95 per cent of all GM seeds sold in India.
In India, the same scientists who promote GMOs sit on regulatory bodies. When the environment minister asked six academies of science to provide their scientific inputs for the Bt brinjal moratorium, what they submitted was propaganda material lifted verbatim from industry literature. The situation is worse in the US where the biotechnology industry literally runs all government agencies. That is why the US government tried to sue Europe in World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the GMO bans in some countries. The WTO GMO campaign was started by Navdanya with a large coalition of groups worldwide. Navdanya had to organise a massive global campaign and submitted 60 million signatures to WTO at the Hong Kong ministerial to prevent the removal of the bans.
GMOs continue to be promoted as the only solution to hunger and food security. However, the tools of genetic engineering are merely tools of transferring genes across species boundaries. They are not tools of breeding. The breeding is still done through conventional methods. The yield of a crop is determined by conventional technologies, not by genetic engineering. Yield is a multi-genetic trait, and genetic engineering cannot deal with complex traits. The report “Failure to Yield” of the Union of Concerned Scientists — a non-profit science advocacy group based in the US — shows that in no crop has genetic engineering contributed to yield increase. The yield trait comes from the variety into which a GM trait is introduced. As Andrew Pollack of the New York Times observes: “The yield of a crop is mainly determined by the seed’s intrinsic properties, not the inserted gene. An insect resistant protection gene will not make a poor variety a high yielder”. The scientists’ claim that GMOs will increase food security is therefore an unscientific myth. Over the 20 years of commercialisation of GMOs, two traits account for most genetic modification. These are crops into which a gene has been added to resist herbicides (herbicide-resistant crops) or a gene has been added to resist pests (Bt crops). The former are supposed to control weeds, the latter are supposed to control pests. However, herbicide-resistant crops have led to evolution of super weeds, and pest-resistant crops have led to creation of super pests. Monsanto introduced Round-up Ready Crops for herbicide resistance. When super weeds started to overtake crops, Monsanto introduced Round-Up Ready II. In 2010, it introduced smart stax with eight toxic genes — six for insecticides and two for herbicide resistance. Monsanto’s strategy was to “create a captive customer base” through stacking eight toxic genes. The strategy was a failure. Monsanto lost 47 per cent of its shares, and is paying US farmers $12 per acre to deal with the problems created by its GMO seeds. If one toxic gene does not control pests and instead creates super pests, stacking six insecticidal genes will only accelerate the emergence of resistance. Monsanto and others who promote GMOs forget Einstein’s observations that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.
Another serious issue related to GMOs is the destruction of biodiversity, and the creation of monocultures and monopolies. India had 1,500 varieties of cotton. Today 95 per cent of cotton grown in India is Bt cotton. And most of the Bt cotton is owned and controlled by Monsanto through licensing arrangements. Monsanto charges `50 lakh as an initial licence fee and then royalty. When GM Bt cotton was introduced, prices of cotton seed jumped from `5 per kg to `1,600 per 450 gm of which the royalty was `725. If this extraction of super profits had continued, it translated into an annual transfer of `1,000 crore or `10 billion from poor Indian farmers to Monsanto. For the farmer this means debt. An anti-trust case against Monsanto filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh has forced the company to reduce the price of Bt cotton, but the introduction of Bollgard II has pushed the prices up again.
A failed and hazardous technology such as genetic engineering can only be pushed through dictatorial means. GMOs and democracy cannot co-exist. GMO-free food and agriculture is necessary for creating food security and defending food democracy.
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