Archive for the ‘Bt Brinjal’ Category

"Poisonous Fumes" Out To Terminate "Food Security".

14 January 2013
Sticking to one’s “opinions” in the face of un-supportive data is a major human weakness that is not at all uncommon. Some even applaud those who consistently hold the same “views” that were founded on data and knowledge [i.e. commonly accepted interpretations], which were “current” at some point in the past, but refuse to change even when new data and “present” knowledge compel revision of those “views”. Such “consistency” in “views” would be nothing short of tomfoolery of the stubborn, who is wont to say, “I have made my mind, don’t confuse me with facts”. Contrarian it would appear is or is made out to be the case of Mark Lynas, who we are told was one of the earliest crusaders against Genetically Modified [GM] crops when these were to be introduced in Europe. He is supposed to have played an “important role” three years ago when the debate on introduction of Bt Brinjal in India was at its peak. Of course, he then weighed in on the side opposing Bt Brinjal. Lynas today has changed his views on GM crops as he has every right to do if the new evidence he has found or studied warrants such a change. Apparently he confessed to a change of heart at an Oxford Farming Conference held earlier this month.
However, the Indian Express front page anchor of yesterday based on an eMail interview with Lynas, has not even one sentence on why he opposed GM crops before, and what new evidence has compelled him to change his views. That is right, not even one sentence to educate anyone interested in the topic. On the other hand, Lynas is full of “opinions” and “tirades” against some of the other personalities involved in Bt Brinjal saga: ^^Indian anti-GM activism is based on widely believed myths and popular misconceptions and conspiracy theories, promoted by political activists like Vandana Shiva, who find anti-GM a convenient banner to organise their reactionary campaigns against modern technology and capitalism in general,…. “Ramesh’s approach was a cop out, because it allowed those who shouted loudest — always the self-interested NGOs — to drown out the voices of everyone else. I have great respect for his skills as a politician, but on GM unfortunately he has let science down by not defending the need for evidence in policy. When it comes to a battle between mythology and scientific truth, minister Ramesh has declined to take sides,”….^^. At best these “opinions” of Lynas could be described as unsubstantiated allegations that are not germane to the topic of suitability or otherwise of GM crops. At worst these sound like fulminations of a spurned suitor, who is out to vent his spleen. It does no credit to the newspaper either which is happy to create one more “controversy” without trying to address substantive issues for the sake of its readers. Editor of the paper [Running on fumes] compounded its mistakes by adding his own bit of “Culpa”: ^^His speech was both a mea culpa and an analysis of the ways in which a movement instinctively suspicious of technology and capitalism has been allowed to hold back research and production of GM crops around the world. Such recantations are inevitable, given that much of that movement is now running on fumes^^. Whether GM crops would harm the eater is a question that I would say is still unsettled. But even if one were to assume that GM crops does no harm either to one who eats it or to the environment [directly, per say], there are still many substantive issues, which beg careful attention.
  • GM crops would create monopoly or oligopoly in germ plasm, which would just like the oligopoly in world trade in food grains eventually lead to rise in prices of foods. Terminator technology would force the farmer to go back to the seed company for every crop, because seeds from his own harvests would not germinate. Why should GM crops have this feature? How does it ensure food security? This feature serves only ONE purpose, the purpose of creating “Germ plasm-Dependence” or “Corporatisation of Food” or “Profit Security“. It is argued this is necessary to protect the intellectual property rights [IPR] or profits of the corporates. Oh! sure, it is. But should one allow humankind’s food to be held hostage to corporate interests?
  • Even in USA, where crops are planted on literally hundreds or thousands of hectors contiguously, the non-GM crops have been contaminated by GM crops, despite some  attention paid to sequestration-legislation and procedures. On small landholdings, where majority of India’s food is grown, one doesn’t even have to imagine the chaos that such “contamination” would cause.
  • This has major implications for narrowing down and finally eliminating the genetic diversity of natural crops. The change in climate and rainfall patterns have adversely affected many high yielding varieties of crops, which require higher input dosages of chemicals, fertilizers, and therefore of water too. Compounded by decreased resistance to pests, it has caused reducing yields of former “miracle” varieties. In many areas, farmers are falling back upon time tested natural varieties that resist water stress, pests, or even unseasonal or heavy rains much better. Though their yields may be less when compared under “favourable circumstances”, they trump high yielding varieties when nature does not “cooperate”, which seems to be the more likely scenario moving ahead. Introduction of GM crops [with terminator technology] may be a final blow to natural genetic diversity as the farmers may initially be lured into using them through clever promotions and promise of higher yields; but the resultant contamination of natural varieties may become impossible to reverse.
  • India’s regulatory mechanisms have been proved again and again to be either inadequate and easily manipulable; or worse, mere paper tigers, who have no existence beyond the paper on which they are written. How could one trust even the trials to go on without redressing this inherent rot?
  • The argument that without GM crops the food security is in peril has been demolished through several independent studies. I quote one: ^^Interestingly, the University Of Michigan at Ann Arbor study has struck a blow for organic farming by busting the earlier cited two fond myths that have been assiduously cultivated by those opposed to organic farmi. Comparing organic farming with ‘low energy intensive’ conventional farming practised in developing countries, they found that organic farms can produce up to 3 times higher food. Organic farming is not only helpful to work the small land-holdings that are ubiquitous to developing world, but even admirably come over the access deficit that poor farmers face in procuring GM seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and even large quantum of water. Access deficit is caused not just by monetary constraints, but even due to non-availability of these costly inputs on time and in required doses. When they studied the organic-nitrogen availability, there too they found that by planting what they call “Green manure’ crops (GM crops) would yield nitrogen in totally sufficient quantities. GM crops are those varieties that farmers all over the world have traditionally inter-cropped with main harvests such as legumes, which fix nitrogen (actually azo-bacteria do), or have ploughed back into soil fodder plants that are left over. For the purpose of their analysis,researchers defined the term organic as: practices referred to as sustainable or ecological; that utilize non-synthetic nutrient cycling processes; that exclude or rarely use synthetic pesticides; and sustain or regenerate the soil quality“. To conclude, Perfecto adds : “the idea that people would go hungry if farming went organic is ridiculous. Corporate interest in agricultureand the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food^^.
Yet, IE Editor goes on to add without substantiation: ^^Report after report has established that GM foods are as benign as any other, in both public health and environmental terms^^, and provide “food security” despite the constraints of both “land” and “water”. At another place he adds, ^^And yet, science has persistently disproved them — they did not lead to a dependence on chemicals, they saved farmers money on inputs, “terminator seeds” were a hoax^^. He has probably not heard the term, “Round Up Ready”, which is coined by the fountain-head of GM Crops- Monsanto. What are “Round Up Ready” crops if they are not weedicide -a chemical- dependent to eliminate everything else but itself? If “Terminator Seeds” are a hoax, then why do the harvested grains or seeds give very poor results if used as seeds for next crop?
Unfortunately, the “reported” reactions from Vandana Shiva too did not help matters: ^^“This fellow does not even know science”. “I am a PhD in quantum theory. All that he is saying now is like being another spokesperson of corporates like Monsanto. The United Nations would not have created a UN protocol on bio-safety if there were no issues related to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He cannot accuse the UN of working on myths”^^. The response, sadly, has taken the same route as the original accusations. United Nations, or more specifically Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have been accused of working on myths in another context- climate change. UN’s role is not above reproach in any case. In politics at least UN has often played the role of an handmaiden [no slur intended on women] to world’s only super power. Besides, her assertions do not enlighten anyone interested in the topic of GM crops, except confirming the bitterly adversarial positions of the two contending parties. 
Food security is finally also about sovereignty. A nation can’t be sovereign if its people are not sovereign. People cannot be sovereign, unless the farmers who grow their food are sovereign. Farmers won’t be sovereign, if the germ plasm does not remain sovereign in their hands, and the genetic diversity is not protected. If the interest of people of India is at the heart of votaries of GM crops and if they are convinced that GM crops is the only alternative left; then why not these worthies demand that at least in India let there be public ownership of all GM crops; and if required government should outright buy the really useful GM crop research.
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