Don't make Kerala's rice bowl an experimental lab (3/7/2007)

NOTE: This editorial comes from the largest circulation daily in the Indian state of Kerala.

EXTRACT: Granting approval [for GM crops] will be a clear violation of the Supreme Court order dated 22nd September 2006.


Translation of the Editorial in the Malayalam Daily "Mathrubhumi", 30 June 2007

The move to make Palakkad, known as the rice bowl of Kerala, into an experimental laboratory for genetically modified rice must be prevented. Palakkad is one among the ten centres being considered in the country for field trials of 6 varieties of genetically modified paddy seeds. The proposal to select Palakkad as one of the experimental fields is now under the consideration of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), which is the deciding agency. Until now, the committee has not given any approval to do experiments in open fields. But they have informed Mahyco, the company which submitted the proposal that approval may be granted, if it can prove that the contamination to other crops will be less than 0.01percentage. A submission was raised in the State Assembly, by Sri M.V.Sreyams kumar, MLA, highlighting the serious danger this can cause to biodiversity, environment and agriculture. The State Law Minister, Sri M Vijaykumar, replied on behalf of the Chief Minister that the Department of Agriculture has not given permission to grow genetically modified crops in the state. Even though this is of great relief, the State government should take all necessary steps to bring this to the notice of the Central Government and protect the interest of the agriculture sector.

What Mahyco has proposed in Palakkad is to undertake open field trials. Now, suppose the trial is for testing the weedicide resistant genetic character of the genetically modified rice, then any amount of weedicide can be applied in the field where this rice is cultivated. The rice crop will not be affected by the weedicide. But all other plants in the vicinity would be destroyed. The weedicide may also contaminate water that will eventually flow and destroy nearby flora, many of which may be essential for butterflies and honey bees to sustain. Destroying of these insects that help in pollination will in turn break the natural food chain. These crops are not only harmful to animals that depend on them, but to human beings as well. The companies were carrying out the field trials of genetically modified crops without informing the actual owner of the leased land, the farmers who cultivate in adjacent lands or the grama panchayaths. When this came to be known, the GEAC was formed to regulate the open field trials. Apart from paddy, the proposal for open field trials of genetically modified maize, brinjal and cotton have also come for approval before the GEAC. Granting approval will be a clear violation of the Supreme Court order dated 22nd September 2006.

The Ministry of Environment says that the stay enforced by the Supreme Court on the open field trials of genetically modified seeds through the order on 22nd September 2006 has been vacated by the order on the 8th of May 2007. But the Supreme Court had through the May 8th order actually enforced stricter regulatory measures over monitoring of the field trails permitted earlier by GEAC. Therefore, it is clear that the action taken by the committee is a violation of the Supreme Court orders. The renowned agricultural scientist Prof M.S.Swaminathan has recommended that cultivation of GM crops should not be allowed in the areas included in the Western Ghats region. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) also says that there is a great chance for the genetically modified genes to be transferred into other crops.

FAO also reminds us that organic farming is the most suitable option for the country. The decision of the Orissa govt. not to allow cultivation of GM brinjal in the state is noteworthy. Palakkad district is blessed with great biodiversity in the form of different varieties of paddy, maize, black gram, sesame, ground nut, coconut, different varieties of lemon, ragi, castor etc. The proposed experiment will signal the beginning of the destruction of this diversity. The end result of this will not only be the extinction of our traditional seeds and crops but also the destruction of our soil. Hence this is the time for the State government and all the political parties to stay united in thwarting this attempt.

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