Satheesh's full piece / Farmer suicide on rise (25/4/2006)

1.Farmer suicide on rise
2.Labelling? Is that the issue? - pv satheesh

The pv satheesh piece for the Financial Express, we put out earlier today was cut in some critical areas by the paper's sub-editors, so here's the full piece - item 2.

"he set himself alight and fled their home in flames.

The ambitious 34-year-old bought the latest, expensive, high-yield genetically-modified cotton seeds for his 15-acre (six-hectare) farm in this parched corner of India's vast rural hinterland only for his crops to fail for two successive years." - item 1

1.Farmer suicide on rise as India's rural crisis deepens
GG2.NET NEWS, 22 April 2006

DESPITE failed crops and mounting debts, the family of Indian cotton farmer Chandrakant Gurenule never believed his suicide threats until he set himself alight and fled their home in flames.

The ambitious 34-year-old bought the latest, expensive, high-yield genetically-modified cotton seeds for his 15-acre (six-hectare) farm in this parched corner of India`s vast rural hinterland only for his crops to fail for two successive years.

He sold the pair of bullocks he used to plough the fields, and told his wife -- whose wedding jewellery had already been given to unofficial moneylenders -- there was no hope left.

He sat inside his home, doused himself in kerosene and lit a match.

His death on April 1 was one of the latest in a crisis that saw more than 4,100 farmers commit suicide in the western state of Maharashtra alone in 2004, according to a state government-backed report based on police figures.

Desperate and debt-ridden with loan sharks demanding up to 120 per cent annual interest, the failed harvests and tumbling prices have driven businesses to the wall and farmers to suicide.

2.Labelling? Is that the issue?

In all the debates concerning biotechnology, food and crops, the way questions are framed are always interesting. The present debate is one such. For instance, it says "Is labeling a boon or a barrier for agri-biotechnology?'"

What do we recognise as a boon or a curse? What works for the industry or what works for the consumers? What works for the farmers?

Unless we define these positions, there is very little possibility in developing an informed understanding of the issues involved. Actually the question we should be asking is Is agrobiotechnology a boon or a curse? Not so much to the Dalal Street but for the one billion and odd consumers of this country of which 500 million+ are farmers.

If the question is turned around in this fashion, a number of answers start tumbling down the cupboards of the CII, DBT and the Ministry of Commerce who are anxious to create fast track clearances for the biotech products ignoring all health and agri-consequences.

Is labelling GMOs a good enough solution to a country where the illiteracy levels are close to 40%? Currently a huge publicity blitz is on by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs asking the citizens of India to understand what is MRP, Expiry Date etc. after these rules have been operation for over 30 years. If understanding MRP and Expiry Date is so difficult, how will the Indian consumer comprehend the implication of GM food even if it is labelled?

In a country where the GM debate is almost non existent, where the first GE crop such as Bt Cotton has crashed taking along with it hundreds of farmers lives, what is the obscene hurry to open the gates for GM? Why are we rushin in where angels are afraid to tread?

As recently as three months ago, Switzerland rejected GE food in a nationwide referendum. Why is our nation so undemocratic? Does the population of this country deserve no role in making such decisions?

Are we keeping track of the global evidences about the unsafe character of GM foods that are mounting by the day?

*In a recent experiment the noted Russian Scientist Dr Ermakova from the Russian Academy of Sciences found that the offspring of female rats fed on GM soya were five times more likely to die within three weeks of birth than those of mothers fed on normal soya.

*The legendary scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai found young rats fed GM potatoes damaged in every organ system including an increase in thickness of the stomach lining to twice that in controls.

*Data from the 1990s available with the US FDA show that rats fed GM tomatoes developed small holes in their stomach

*A new Australian research says that a harmless protein in bean when transferred to pea caused inflammation in the lungs of mice.

From mice to men is not far away. Five unexplained deaths and mysterious illnesses in the south of the Philippines occurred when a Monsanto GM maize hybrid came into flower. Antibodies to the Bt protein in the GM maize were found in the villagers.

These are only tips of the iceberg. Facts that are emerging out of science labs and peasant farms swell the damning evidences against GM in spite of the all cover ups attempted by the powerful industry's continuing spin.

In this atmosphere, in a country like India, where a large majority of people cannot read and write can we say we have labelled GM and let them eat it at their own peril? The irrefutable evidence of pesticide residue in Coca Cola did not deter the GenNext from declaring their undying allegiance to the soft drink. They were drinking a brand and if they stopped it, what would Shah Rukhs and Aamirs think of them!

The one billion + population of this country cannot be left to the market logic of the CII and the Biotech industry baying for their profits and the Ministry of Commerce which is an accomplice. India should initiate a democratic debate, not on whether we should label, but on whether we should let GM food enter this country. Otherwise, history will accuse us of genocide of millions of consumers and farmers by a powerful few acting on the dictates of Wal Marts.

[p v satheesh]
Director, Deccan Development Society
Convenor, South Against Genetic Engineering

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