EXCERPT: "The prime minister visited Vidharba but neither have the cotton farmers growing Bt cotton been compensated nor has the industry been blacklisted. No uncomfortable questions are likely to be asked, no heads will roll, and no one will be accountable for the biggest scientific fraud to have hit Indian science."
This is from Devinder Sharma's contribution to a debate in the Indian newspaper, The Deccan Herald. The other contribution - from a scientist for Mahyco, the Monsanto subsidiary in India that has been developing Bt brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) can be found here: http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/jul312006/panorama163402006730.asp
Risks covered up
By Devinder Sharma
The Deccan Herald, http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/jul312006/panorama1632232006730.asp
It is now official. A report by the Planning Commission has accepted that Bt cotton shouldn't have been approved for the rainfed regions of the country. The "astronomical" seed price, the need for more water and pesticides has aggravated the crisis for cotton farmers who are already reeling under a terrible agrarian emergency.
The Bt cotton debacle was on the cards. If the latest reports of Bt cotton farming in China, the global case study for promotion of the silver-bullet GM crops, are any indication, cutting-edge technology is being promoted at the cost of gullible farmers. A study by the Cornell University and the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy has found that Bt cotton farmers have to spray as much as the conventional farmers are, besides incurring net losses. There is also no GM crop that increases productivity. Many of these crops - for instance, GM soyabean - reduce crop yields.
The prime minister visited Vidharba but neither have the cotton farmers growing Bt cotton been compensated nor has the industry been blacklisted. No uncomfortable questions are likely to be asked, no heads will roll, and no one will be accountable for the biggest scientific fraud to have hit Indian science. Such is the callous apathy towards the farming community that the apex committee - the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) - has, instead of persecuting erring firms and officials, further allowed the seed companies to incorporate the Bt gene into any cotton variety. It is now getting ready with a green signal for Bt brinjal. It is a tragic reflection of the way science has been made subservient to corporate interests.
Scientific research is rigged, alarming evidence of health dangers are covered up, and intense political pressure silences the sane voice of dissidents. Distortions, omissions, cover-ups and bribes are used to promote an unhealthy and risky technology, and that too with the "pious" intention of increasing productivity and thereby, eradicating hunger.
The overt and covert machinations to push unhealthy and risky GM foods began a decade ago. The US found a simple way out to first force the African countries into submission. The US Senate passed a Bill, the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, (HR 1298), which, in a diplomatic way, links financial aid to combating HIV AIDS with GM food acceptance. Ministers, judges, bureaucrats, scientists and journalists are routinely taken to the US to learn about the "virtues" of GM technology.
Bt brinjal is the world's first genetically altered food crop ready to be released in its centre of origin. It is also a field test to ascertain the impact on human health. So far, the industry has been, ad nauseum, repeating that GM crops have brought no ill-effects on Americans who have been eating it unknowingly for a decade or so. This is, however, not true. Average, middle-aged, white Americans are much more sick than their counterparts in England, startling new research shows. This is despite US healthcare spending per person being more than double what Britain spends. The inference is clear. Americans are also more prone to diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, lung disease and cancer. In the 1980s, nearly 100 Americans were killed and more than 5000 fell sick from a disease called Eosinophillia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS), which was traced to a genetically engineered brand of GM soya (L-tryptophan) produced by the Japanese company Showa Denko.
A UK study found that soya allergies skyrocketed by 50 per cent after GM soyabean was imported. Public awareness about the harmful effects of GM food is now becoming global. The risks include unexpected food allergies, toxins in food or hastening the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease.
Even the seed giant Monsanto's own studies have shown that some rats fed on GM maize had smaller kidneys and variations in the composition of their blood, while the rats fed on normal maize were healthy.
Bt brinjal is not the only food GM crop on the horizon. Scientists are getting ready with a list of 20-odd crops that have been genetically altered - rice, mustard, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, potato and soyabean to name a few. The GM food industry is getting ready to treat the nation as a testing laboratory.
(A plant geneticist by training, the writer is a researcher and policy analyst specialising in global food and agriculture.)
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