By Devinder Sharma

Genetically modified (GM) crops are once again in the eye of a storm. With the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPM] taking a complete U-turn in its stated policy approach and now publicly supporting GM crops, the debate is heating up. National president of the All India Kisan Sabha, the farmers’ wing of the CPM, SR Pillai, has recently called those who oppose GM crops as being ‘superstitious’.

At the recently concluded 98th Indian Science Congress, industry lobbyists had made a strong pitch for GM crops. Ironically, while the Indian Science Congress has always refrained from discussing farmer suicides, it offered a platform to the biotech industry for promoting a risky and unstable technology.

A year later, in 2008, the US and Spain had plotted to raise food prices in Europe to justify the need for introducing GM foods. With Europe still not accepting GM crops, India remains the prime target. Wikileaks informs that even India’s National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, talked about the possibility of opening up to GM crops.

After Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a moratorium on the commercialisation of Bt brinjal in early 2010, diplomatic and political pressure from the US has been increasing relentlessly. The multinational seed industry moved fast, first by taking a large number of journalists on an ‘educational’ trip to the US, and also within India, thereby shifting some of the media’s opinion in favour of GM crops.

At the same time, American multinational giants began the exercise to sway political opinion in favour of GM crops. The turnaround by CPM seems to be an outcome of one such approach. Nevertheless, it is important to explain some of the hotly debated aspects, which is lost in the hype being generated to push GM crops.

The first and foremost argument is that GM crops are important for a country that has more than 1 billion people to feed. It will ensure food security. The fact is there is no GM crop in the world that increases productivity. In fact, most of the GM crops under cultivation actually reduce productivity. The US Department of Agriculture admits that the productivity of GM corn and GM soya is less than that of normal varieties, and that makes me wonder how our politicians are suggesting GM crops for ensuring food security.

Furthermore, there is no shortage of food in the world. We have 6.5 billion people on Earth, and we produce food for 11.5 billion people. If more than 1 billion people go to bed hungry globally, it is because of the faulty distribution process rather than the unavailability of food. The same holds true for India, where one-third of the population cannot afford to buy food, but huge quantities of food is allowed to rot.

Almost all the GM crops that have been developed so far are for killing insects. Bt cotton, for instance, is supposed to kill sucking pests like pink bollworm, thereby reducing pesticides consumption. This, however, does not hold true for long. In China, cotton farmers growing Bt cotton are now reported to be spraying 10% more pesticides and thereby incurring losses.

In India too, as far as pesticides consumption on Bt cotton is concerned, its cultivation has, in reality, increased the application of pesticides. The Central Cotton Research Institute estimates that in 2006, pesticides worth Rs640 crore were sprayed on cotton. In 2008, it had increased to over Rs800 crore. Even in the US, where GM crops are widely cultivated, the usage of herbicides has increased by $300 million.

GM crops also create super weeds, which cannot be controlled by any chemicals so far. In the US, almost 15 million acres have become infested with super weeds. Georgia, for instance, has been turned into a wasteland due to infestation of super weeds. So far, at least 30 super weeds have been indentified in North America.

Numerous experiments all over the world have shown that GM crops pose tremendous health risks. Even Monsanto’s own studies on rats in Europe have demonstrated that the animals have problems with their body organs, and use of GM crops can also result in serious diseases and allergies. Some studies in Austria have shown that GM crops also lead to infertility.

Interestingly, all the scientists who dared to question the human safety aspect were hounded out of their jobs.

Already farmers are committing suicide because of the faulty technologies imposed on them. How many more farmers do we want killed before we stop using such killer technologies?

This article originally appeared in Daily News and Analysis

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