Highland GM battle inspires Indians (27/3/2004)

Highland GM battle inspires Indians
The Scotsman, Sat 27 Mar 2004

ONE of the world’s leading opponents of genetically modified crops has backed the campaign to keep Scotland GM-free.

Devinder Sharma, an award-winning journalist, writer and researcher on food and trade policy, said campaigners in other parts of the world had been inspired by protesters in the Highlands who fought GM field trials in the Black Isle.

He has also revealed that a forthcoming Bollywood film will feature a story of the cloning of humans which could help the fight against GM technology in his native India. Mr Sharma, who is at the forefront of the campaign against the introduction of GM crops to India, was in the Highlands yesterday, and visited the site at Munlochy where a vigil was set up three years ago to protest at the trialling of GM crops.

This week he also held a briefing for MPs in the House of Commons.

He said it was "very sad" that the Scottish Executive and the UK government had given qualified consent to the GM maize crop. "There is no benefit from GM maize to the UK, but it is an indication that the government gave in to industry pressure."

However, he said: "Britain is the only country that has stood up to these issues. It is a model for the world.

"There was a time when it was said that the sun would never set on the British Empire ... but the empire crumbled. Today the sun does not set on the multi-national corporations, but I have a feeling that this empire will also crumble."

Mr Sharma said that news of the Munlochy protest had reached campaigners in Delhi.

"This was a unique model. Here were ordinary people standing up to fight this monster.

"This was remarkable," he said, "and that gave us inspiration that if people can come together for this here, it can happen elsewhere also."

He added: "Scotland particularly needs to keep its pristine beauty for posterity. It would be foolish if Scotland gets into GM crops. You have wonderful landscapes and wonderful nature; why would you want to destroy it? It should be GM-free."

He dismissed claims that GM crops could help the hungry in the Third World: "Today we have 840 million people who go to bed hungry and the [biotech] industry says that number will rise to 1.5 billion by 2015, so therefore you need GM crops.

"One third of the world’s hungry live in India, but they are not hungry because there is no food, but because they cannot afford food. In 2001-2, India had a recorded surplus of 65 million tons of wheat and rice."

Instead of money being spent on subsidising food for poorer people, some of it had gone on research into GM crops, he said. "When you put that money to GM research you are taking it out of the mouths of people who are hungry, for research that is not wanted."

Mr Sharma went on: "The Indian government has allocated $12 million (£6.6 million) for research on GM rice. If this money was diverted to feed the poor, they could have fed 12 million people for at least three years."

Mr Sharma also revealed that he suggested to a leading director a storyline for a forthcoming Bollywood movie in which he will now appear.

"It will be a love affair, but the story is that the boy discovers that the girl is a clone. I think it will be a very strong message."

Anthony Jackson, one of the Munlochy campaigners, said: "Devinder has a unique perspective on this issue. There has been a lot of moral blackmail that GM will feed the world, but he has presented proof that it will do anything but. To feed the world, we need the political will to lift people out of poverty."  

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