'GM Food and Hunger: A View from the South'/Gene Campaign's 2-day symposium - findings (31/12/2003)

1.'GM Food and Hunger: A View from the South' - Devinder Sharma's new book and how to obtain a copy
2.'RELEVANCE OF GM TECHNOLOGY TO INDIAN AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY' - the recommendations to emerge from Gene Campaign's recent 2-day symposium
1.'GM Food and Hunger: A View from the South'

If you'd like to obtain a copy of 'GM Food and Hunger: A View from the South' by Devinder Sharma, please contact the author for details:
[email protected]

From the book's Preface, on how politics and commerce trump humanitarian concern:

Ironically, [when southern African countries were asking for non-GM food grain to feed their hungry and the U.S. was refusing to supply it] the country which was laden with overflowing grain silos and unmanageable grain reserves was also the one to have come to the rescue of a famine-stricken Ireland in the nineteenth century.

The first shipload of grain that came for the starving Irish was from India. And more recently, India had provided food on 'humanitarian' basis to the war-torn Iraqis'. And soon after Bin Laden and his associates were forced out, India had stepped in to fight immediate hunger in Afghanistan. Earlier too, India had come to the rescue of Ethiopia at the height of the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s.

With 60 million tonnes of foodgrains stockpiled in the open, and all of it non genetically modified grain, India was the right choice for food supply. Even the European Union had ample stocks of non-genetically modified corn.

But this was not allowed to happen. After all, the impending famine in Africa opens up a new market to sustain the multi-billion dollar US biotechnology industry. What happens in the bargain to the resulting crisis in human health and misery, and environment contamination from GMOs, was none of the concern of the American grain merchants. In fact, it never has been.

At the height of the 1974 famine in the newly born Bangladesh, the US withheld 2.2 million tonnes of food aid to 'ensure that it abandoned plans to try Pakistani war criminals'. And a year later, when Bangladesh was faced with severe monsoons and imminent floods, the then US Ambassador to Bangladesh made it abundantly clear that the US probably could not commit food aid because of Bangladesh's policy of exporting jute to Cuba. And by the time Bangladesh succumbed to the American pressure, and stopped jute exports to Cuba, the food aid in transit was 'too late for famine victims'.

Food was then a political weapon. Food has now, in addition, become a major commercial enterprise.

[for more on the GM and food aid topic:

Gene Campaign recently organised India's first multi-stakeholder symposium on GM in the context of Indian agriculture and food security. Here are the recommendations that emerged from that two day symposium.


Suman Sahai

To celebrate its tenth anniversary, Gene Campaign had organized a two-day national symposium in Delhi on November 26th and 27th, 2003, on " The Relevance of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture and Food Security". The purpose of the symposium was to bring together a range of stakeholders of differing views; to discuss what genetic modification technology offered Indian agriculture and whether it was relevant to ensuring the food security of the nation.

This exercise was undertaken because there is an increasing interest in the subject of GM crops but no comprehensive discussion on the subject had as yet taken place in India. Gene Campaign decided to provide a platform where a variety of speakers could provide information on various aspects of GM technology and all views could be freely expressed. Ample time slots for discussion during the symposium ensured that the public had sufficient opportunity to ask questions and express views. The multi-stakeholder symposium brought together speakers and participants with a wide spectrum of views on GM crops, ranging from those in favor of GM crops to those that were opposed to them.

Participants included scientists, academics, social scientists, farmers, members of parliament, lawyers and judges, representatives of government, including the regulatory agencies, various policy makers, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), the Indian seed industry, the multinational seed industry, food processing and retailing industries, environmentalists, consumer organizations, organic farmer organizations, international organizations, representatives of foreign embassies and missions, and a number of civil society organizations. Dr. MS Swaminathan delivered the inaugural address and Dr. VL Chopra; President of NAAS gave the symposium keynote.

The symposium recognized that the field of biotechnology is advancing rapidly and the Indian regulatory system is grossly inadequate to provide any meaningful oversight. A common feature of all the presentations was the urgent need to change the structure and composition of the regulatory agencies, particularly the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India's apex regulatory body.

A series of recommendations emerged from the two-day deliberations. A first draft was prepared on the basis of the recommendations that were made by speakers and participants during the symposium. These were circulated for comments. The final set of recommendations incorporates the comments and suggestions received after the round of consultations. There was a high degree of agreement on the recommendations but not necessarily unanimity on all of them.

Copies of these recommendations have been forwarded to the Government's Task Force on Biotechnology, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the Department of Biotechnology, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment as well as the Prime Minister's Office.

1. A distinct law should be enacted to oversee Genetic Modification Technology and its implementation. This law must harmonise with other laws and national and international agreements.
2. A comprehensive biotechnology policy should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders.
3. A statutory National Bioethics Commission must be set up.
4. There should be a consultative and participatory process to prioritise crops and traits for genetic improvement through biotechnology with the goal of addressing the needs of small farmers and Indian agriculture.
5. Investment in public sector research should be increased and strengthened. Novel gene discovery in crops of relevance to India should get highest priority.
6. India must develop a policy for transgenic varieties of crops for which it is a Centre of Origin and Diversity. Commercial cultivation of GM rice should not be allowed until the nature of gene flow and its impact is understood.
7. The Herbicide Tolerance trait should be subject to rigorous cost and risk benefit analysis before being considered for adoption.
8. Alternatives to the GM approach must be carefully evaluated in each case before deciding on the GM route. A cost and risk benefit analysis must be conducted before deciding on a GM product.
9. Protocol for food safety tests must be vastly improved and mechanisms for long term monitoring of human health (post GM food release) be put in place.
10. Develop a stringent protocol to assess environmental and ecological impact.
11. There should be provisions for post-market surveillance and monitoring of GM products.
12. Have a policy to deal with bio terrorism urgently.
13. India must exercise caution in the IPR regime that it adopts. The current PPV-FR should be retained since it balances Breeders and Farmers' Rights.
14. A new statutory, independent National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority must be established.
15. Make GEAC more competent, transparent and accountable. Post data on research and development of GM crops and products on websites and local newspapers.
16. An annual review of all decisions on GM products must be presented to Parliament.
17. Conduct a scientifically sound study to assess attitudes and perceptions about GM technology among stakeholders in India.
18. Undertake a program of awareness about GM technology to educate the public.
19. Organize a series of public debates across the country to elicit the views of the people, to channel it into policy making. The government should fund this exercise.
20. There should be a moratorium on commercial cultivation of GM crops until the regulatory system is demonstrably improved. Research on GM crops, however, should continue.

For details about the symposium, visit Gene Campaign's website:
For queries, send email at [email protected]

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