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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 1, December 27, 2014 - Annual Number

Government Goes Ahead With GM Crop Trials: Warnings By Top Scientists and Sangh Parivar Objections Ignored

Saturday 27 December 2014

There are many signs that the NDA Govern-ment is going ahead with the agenda of GM crops and the multinational companies which control these crops, ignoring the strong scientific evidence against GM (genetically modified) crops.

Some senior leader within the BJP and the wider Sangh Parivar told this writer that they think the GM crops will be a disaster, but obviously the government is not listening to this viewpoint.

Some State governments, including those ruled by the BJP, have expressed their objections to GM technology.

Hindustan Times reported on October 27: “The Environment Ministry has allowed field trials of two varieties of genetically modified (GM) brinjal and mustard, almost 18 months after the previous government ordered a freeze on such tests.

“In a reply to an RTI query in early October, the Ministry said on August 21, it permitted the Delhi University to hold trials for a mustard variety and Maharashtra-based Bejo Seeds Pvt Ltd to test Bt brinjal.”

The Times of India reported on November 29: “Certain States may have reservations against Genetically Modified (GM) crops, but the Centre has backed field trials of such varieties in national interest and even asked investors to look at the potential of transgenic seeds-driven business opportunities in India.

“At the time when some BJP-ruled States under pressure from RSS-backed organisations declined to give their nod for field trials of transgenic seeds, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Wednesday told Parlia-ment that his government was of the view that ‘research in GM and confined field trials for generating bio-safety data with all due precautions should be allowed to continue in the national interest’.”

This controversy should be seen in the context of well-established scientific opinion against the many-sided hazards of GM crops and foods.

Recently Pushpa M. Bhargava, founder Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and one of the leading experts in this field, has presented a significant critique of GM crops (Hindustan Times. In this he has stated:

  • There are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish the harmful effects of the GM crops on human, animal and plant health, and on environment and bio-diversity.
  • 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.
  • 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.

More specifically, on the experience of growing the only GM crop, Bt cotton, in India so far, Prof Bhargava says:

  • 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.
  • There has been a marked increase in the number of secondary pests such as mealy bug.
  • The soil where Bt cotton has been grown over a prolonged period has become incapable of sustaining any other crop.

This review by a foremost expert who was appointed by the Supreme Court of India in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to protect safety concerns is supported by the opinion of many leading scientists and groups/panels of scientists on the health hazards and other risks of GM crops.

An eminent group of scientists from various countries—constituting the Independent Science Panel—has said in its conclusion after exam-ining all aspects of GM crops: “GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns that, if ignored, could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now.

How can our government ignore such clear scientific opinion on the hazards of GM crops provided by an international group of eminent scientists? What this statement says very clearly is that GM crops are not safe and these can contaminate all other normal crops as well. In other words, all farmers will be affected by these hazardous crops. Even those farmers who totally reject GM crops will have to face their hazards.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.