Suman Sahai bites back (28/5/2003)

Suman Sahai of India's Gene Campaign bites back here at her critics on the AgBioView list. The most hilarious comment to be made by her attackers came from Greg Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a lobby outfit described by PR WATCH as a "well-funded front for corporations"). Conko wrote, "Although I will not defend Andrew Apel's claim that Suman Sahai is an "eco-faminist", I find it ironic that someone like Sahai who so often resorts to the ad hominem attack (see her claim that my colleague CS Prakash and I are "well known biotechnology lobbyists") would fault someone else for doing the same."

The phrase "well known biotechnology lobbyists" is, of course, an extremely courteous way of describing Prakash and Conko - see: How Prof CS Prakash and his AgBioWorld campaign are part of a network of pro-corporate extremists

CS Prakash - the great deceiver

The antics of biotech lobbyists should not be allowed to distract from the seriousness of what Suman Sahai has to say. She points out, "The risk taking capacity of farmers in India, specially small farmers, is almost zero. There are no crop insurance schemes that work for them, little available credit and little or no agriculture subsidies."

This is the context in which a panel set up by the Gujarat government to evaluate the performance of GM cotton in the State, concluded "it is unfit for cultivation and should be banned in the State." That conclusion is part of a flood of reports from State governments, farmers' organisations, NGOs and scientists of a "failed" or "unsatisfactory" harvest. http://flonnet.com/fl2011/stories/20030606005912300.htm

Response from Suman Sahai ([email protected])

- Comments addressed to Apel, Avery, Conko,Giddings, Shantharam and Elliesen, on the Bt cotton discussion following Prakash and Conko's article in the Wall Street Journal :

1. A great deal of mixing of apples and oranges is happening here.  Iam not an eco-feminist by any stretch of the imagination. Neither I nor Gene Campaign are "anti-genetic engineering" or against modern agriculture. These and other facts are unfortunately a casualty in much of the harangue posted here.

2. The EU-US turf war over GM products is best fought elsewhere. It need not be dragged in wherever "GM" is mentioned.

3. For those having a serious interest in the studies conducted in India , several interviews with farmers are available. Most NGO studies (Gene Campaign, Greenpeace, FAO and others) have documented these.

4. Conko seems to be mixing apples and oranges more than most. He is clearly unacquainted with the ground realities in India and his analysis of the 'confounding factors' of drought and the availability of illegal Bt cotton seeds is factually incorrect.

*Drought this year has meant a lower pest attack than other years. This means fewer bollworm , a condition under which this year's Bt cotton had a better chance of showing good results if the varieties were indeed good.

As it happened,non- Bt cotton varieties performed better than Bt cotton in most locations.

In fact the Gene Campaign study found that the Bt cotton was very vulnerable to pink bollworm against which it seemed to have no protection.

*Conko is unaware that the 'copious amount of saved seed ' from the illegal Bt cotton variety Navbharat 151, has no bearing on the performance being reported for the approved Bt cotton released by Mahyco-Monsanto. All studies, including Gene Campaign's have only been conducted in the fields of farmers that grew the approved Bt cotton. There is no question of the illegal Bt cotton being part of this data and therefore no question of it 'skewing part of the yield downward'.

Incidentally, anecdotal evidence suggests that the performance of the illegal Bt cotton is far superior to the Mahyco- Monsanto variety so if any skewing were to happen, it would happen upwards! At any rate, farmers appear to be seeking out these varieties rather than Bollgard, for the coming planting season.

Farmers having the right to choose their seed is a notion supported by all right thinking people. However, it is the responsibility of the state/ regulatory agencies to ensure that the selection of seeds presented to the farmer is made only after the most rigorous tests, so that they receive only the best. That has clearly not been done in this case. The base varieties Mech 162 and Mech 184 which were transformed, are known to be poor performers.

The risk taking capacity of farmers in India, specially small farmers, is almost zero. There are no crop insurance schemes that work for them, little available credit and little or no agriculture subsidies. There is no point making wise pronouncements on the right of farmers to adopt (or reject) technologies that they have no understanding of and then leaving them to their own devices to bear the brunt when the technology fails, even if only for one season.

When farmers try out seeds in good faith and they do not work as claimed, the supplier of that seed has to be held accountable. That is the reason the Indian Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act of India has incorporated a liability clause. It is under that section (39/2) that Gene Campaign has made the demand for compensation to those farmers who have suffered losses from Bt cotton.

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