Toxic seed, poison harvest
by Sandhya Jain on 02 Feb 2010 13 Comments

The public campaign against commercial production of BT Brinjal has mercifully picked up amidst fears that the Union Government may succumb to American pressure and approve this toxic seed. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) speedily approved BT Brinjal for environmental release in October 2009, despite growing evidence of the general failure and poisonous impact of BT Cotton. If cleared, BT Brinjal will be the first genetically modified (GM) food in India.


Public concerns about BT Brinjal cannot be dismissed; the survival of the Indian farmer and people is at stake. The experience with BT Cotton is anyway disastrous. BT Cotton has failed in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and is synonymous with farmer suicides there; nearly two lakh farmers committed suicide in the decade between 1997 and 2007, because of the sheer debts incurred raising the crop.


To begin with, the seed’s USP - resistance to pests - is untrue. BT resistant pests, especially bollworm, and Roundup tolerant super-weeds are growing worldwide, making GM seeds useless. Moreover, GM seeds cost many times more than traditional organic seeds and are lesser in quantity. The seeds from the standing crop are sterile and cannot be used for the next year’s crop as in traditional farming; this compels eternal farmer dependence upon the company for seed, thus eternally perpetuating company profits! The ultimate aim is to bring all agriculture under bondage of a few Western corporates.


Nor is there guarantee of harvest; the crop can fail for various reasons. GM crops need double or triple the quantity of water needed by traditional seeds, and can fail in the event of water shortage. The marketing companies claim that the crops do not need fertilizers, but the reality is different; hence the indebtedness that drives farmers to despair. Land once used for GM crops can only accept GM seeds thereafter and after three or four harvests, the land becomes barren.


The GM experience is thus an aggravated form of the disaster now visiting the Punjab, where the soil has been ravaged by Green Revolution-induced fertilizer and pesticide poison, which has leeched into the underground water and is causing an epidemic of cancers and other diseases, the true dimensions of which are being concealed by government. The false prosperity of two generations has wrought untold disaster; yet government is flirting with this toxic seed.


The Monsanto seed contains a ‘suicide gene’ that can put the entire food chain in danger as it spreads to other native plants and inhibits their natural reproduction – crop genocide. Experts say that GM crops are unfit for human consumption as the toxic compounds they contain (which are supposed to destroy pests) are retained in the crop and would naturally affect the human body. In Andhra some years ago, four animals died after eating BT Cotton stalks, but the issue was hushed up.


Given the dangers posed by GM seeds, it bears asking why India which has an agro-climatic diversity that ensures some fresh vegetable or fruit grows somewhere round the year, which has the richest bio-diversity of wild vegetable species and medicinal plants, should risk it all for a Western corporate? Why is the Government of India at all entertaining GM crops in this country; who is benefiting from the Genetic Engineering that could wipe out Indian agriculture?  


It is pertinent that the bio-safety study of BT brinjal was done by Monsanto, the very company that has produced and is marketing the seeds, and this has given rise to serious allegations of GEAC being hand-in-glove with the industry lobby.


Environmentalists say that studies on BT crops show great potential health hazards in bio-engineered foods. GM-fed animals have shown problems with growth, organ development and immune responsiveness. A study from Madhya Pradesh showed that BT crops adversely impact the health of farm and factory workers, causing allergies. Farm labour in Gujarat have lodged complaints with NGOs.


Most importantly, however, genetically modified organisms can contaminate all traditional varieties of crop, which cannot be reversed. Western environmentalists suggest this is part of a huge conspiracy to give complete control of world food supplies to a handful of corporates, and that the menace should be nipped in the bud before it is too late.


Doubts have been raised in India, from the moment the environmental clearance was given. Eminent scientist Dr. P.M. Bhargava, appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee matters of the GEAC, immediately went on record to say, “It’s unethical. No time was given to us as members to review the findings. Why was it rushed? I had suggested to them to invite all stakeholders and have a scientific decision on the matter. But they avoided it. Now the decision lies with the ministry. An ordinance must be passed that labels all GM products. Else commercialization must be stopped.’’


Subsequent leaks suggest that the chairman of GEAC’s second expert committee (EC2), Prof. R. Arjula Reddy, was under “tremendous pressure” to recommend commercial cultivation of the genetically modified crop, with the toxin-producing BT gene in it. Prof. Reddy allegedly confided to Dr. Bhargava that he had received calls from the Agriculture Ministry, GEAC and industry; he admitted that eight of the tests suggested by Dr. Bhargava could not be conducted at all. Worse, even tests conducted, “were not done satisfactorily and adequately.”

Dr. Bhargava recorded this in a letter accompanying a memorandum by the Coalition For a GM-Free India to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister of State for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh, urging them to reconsider the approval.


The Coalition For a GM-Free India alleged that the Member-Secretary of the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation, a member of EC2, has a Central Vigilance Commission complaint against him for exercising undue discretionary powers to promote the interests of certain companies, in this case Mahyco. There are conflicting interests of at least two BT Brinjal developers on EC2. One expert is a director of the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, which is part of the consortium developing BT Brinjal in India with American aid. He supervised large scale trials of Mahyco’s BT Brinjal in the last two years, and now as part of EC2 is asked “to review findings of his own institution’s large scale trials and bio-safety tests.” Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

The writer is Editor, 

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