Organic food for the Prince - GM food for the masses? (24/3/2006)

An open letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab Capt. Amarinder Singh

Capt. Amarinder Singh,
Hon'ble Chief Minister of Punjab,


Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, as citizens of India working on environmental and sustainable development issues want to draw your kind attention towards an incomprehensible act on the part of your government.

Sir, we came to know that you are going to host an organic dinner in the honor of Prince Charles on 27-28 March and Prince Charles would also interact with organic farmers. We welcome this new-found love for organic even as we would like to raise some serious concerns.

"I personally have no wish to eat anything produced by genetic modification nor do I knowingly offer this sort of produce to my family or guests."

"We need a GM-free Wales and a GM-free Britain as well, for that matter. We simply do not know the long-term consequences for human health and the wider environment, of releasing plants bred in this way."

"I hope we understand the vital importance of working in harmony with nature and not against it".

"I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and to God alone, ,"…"Apart from certain highly beneficial and specific medical applications, do we have the right to experiment with and commercialize, the building blocks of life?"

These are the words of none other than Prince Charles. It is well known that the Prince is an experienced and successful organic gardener and supporter of organic agriculture.

Interestingly enough, you are a staunch supporter of GM crops. While Prince Charles had demanded that GM crops should be banned, your government is using public funds to promote the cultivation of Bt Cotton, a GM crop. Several government advertisements carrying your photographs were published to promote BT cotton. Moreover, in your recent media campaign about achievements of your government, you had claimed release of BT cotton as one of foremost successes.

Is it not ironical that a strong GM-supporter is hosting an organic dinner in honor of a known opponent of GM crops? Probably you cannot rationally explain this contradiction?

If the Prince wants to know what the results of organic agriculture in Punjab are and what the government is pro-actively doing to support its full potential, will you as the Chief Minister have satisfactory and conscientious answers? Can the government at least say that it has laid down some regulations and implemented them, related to the spread of GM agriculture so that organic farmers' interests can be protected [given that there are stringent standards for organic certification, including distance from the nearest GM field]? Can the government here say that it is aware of the need for bio-safety during research and trials and that it is ensuring that there is no compromise on bio-safety issues? How will it justify the gross violations related to biosafety violations in GM crop research in many locations in this state and the fact that untested GM products are routinely contaminating our supply chain?

Sir, you would very probably find that you are dealing with a knowledgeable person on this subject. The Prince of Wales has been closely following research on both GM foods and organic agriculture and has vociferously argued for best use of labor and management skills for even trebling yields from traditional farming systems and has always questioned the need for GM agriculture. He even brought in a political perspective into his analysis of GM agriculture and questioned the benefits accruing to the companies promoting such agriculture.

At the outset, we should warn the visiting Prince that many scientists and other technocrats in Punjab are conveniently interpreting GM as organic, at least in their unofficial conversations. It is not very clear whether it is plain ignorance or self-deceit or a deliberate misleading of farmers and consumers.

The visiting dignitary should also be informed that any efforts from the government's side in promoting organic agriculture are very half-hearted with a lot of reservations built in.

Sir, Punjab [as well as other different parts of the country] is already facing severe adverse effects of the Green Revolution while paying a heavy cost in the form of suicides, serious illnesses like cancer, debts, and ecological crises including a severe water crisis and fractured social systems in our villages and so on. Before Punjab is pushed into the 'second' phase of green revolution, the human risk and environment sustainability of which is questionable, the need is to draw a balance sheet of the disaster that has already been inflicted through the first green revolution. In the name of the second green revolution, the attempt is fully geared towards introducing GM technologies in agriculture. We would like to point out that the similarities of GM technologies with pesticides are uncanny and even understandable. When DDT was discovered the world thought that this was a wonder chemical and Paul Muller even got a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1939 but within 33 years, the ill-effects of DDT were well-established. In 1972, DDT was banned in US. A precautionary approach to such technologies is the most scientific and accepted approach now, as you would be aware. It is only expected that the Punjab government would enshrine the precautionary principle in its policy framework too.

We hope that when you show glimpses of rural Punjab to Prince Charles, you would do so with full faith in the potential of organic agriculture. Organic is not a fashion nor it is meant for high-society and just the affluent and royal classes. The ordinary Punjabi deserves organic too. Instead, s/he is consuming food with one of the highest levels of pesticide residues in the world. Ordinary Punjabis are suffering from, given the heavy pesticide load in the state, many pesticide-related illnesses. In addition, on a population already withstanding the worst of faulty agricultural technologies, instead of taking a precautionary approach, the government of Punjab wants to impose GM technology. Can the Chief Minister, on this occasion, promise that ordinary Punjabis will be taken care of also? That there would be no double standards imposed on them, especially when it comes to Safe Food? It is the right of every Punjabi to eat safe, healthy and contamination-free food.

Therefore, Hon'ble CM, when you are hosting an organic dinner for Prince Charles, please do so from the core of your heart, with a firm belief in the principles of organic agriculture, of going along with nature and not against it.

Poised as we are on what is being termed as the second green revolution, Punjab – its government and its people – should decide whether they want to chart a similar disastrous course as with the earlier Green Revolution. On the other hand, would Punjab, with the rich skills and knowledge that its farmers have, show a more sustainable path to food, livelihood and resource security for the rest of the country by embracing an ecological, organic approach?

We also have to concede that your contradictory approaches to the masses and the visiting dignitaries is not very different from the official policy framework of the GoI, which seems to promote similar double standards 'GM food is ok for domestic consumers, but organic is the way to go for the consumers in the North'.

Let us pay heed to what Prince Charles has once warned about - "Once genetic material has been released into the environment it cannot be recalled. The likelihood of a major problem may, as some people suggest, be slight, but if something does go badly wrong we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating. I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea of how this could be done, or indeed, who would have to pay."…

"GM crop plants are also being developed to produce their own pesticide. This is predicted to cause the rapid appearance of resistant insects. Worse still, such pesticide-producing plants have already been shown to kill some beneficial predator insects as well as pests. To give just two examples, inserting a gene from a snowdrop into a potato made the potato resistant to greenfly, but also killed the ladybirds feeding on the greenfly. And lacewings, a natural predator of the corn borer and food for farmland birds, died when fed on pest insects raised on GM maize."

We hope that you and your advisors, particularly from the Punjab Agriculture University and Department of Agriculture of Punjab would pick up a few tips from the visiting Prince on organic agriculture and its benefits and why a precautionary approach is needed towards GM technology in agriculture.

We are optimistic about your change of heart in favor of sustainable agriculture and development in harmony with nature. Hoping that Punjab will show the way forward for the rest of the country on this matter and thanking you,

Yours truly,
Umendra Dutt
Dr.Gurdayal Singh
Devinder Sharma
Gobind Thukral
J S Toor
Dr. Joginder Singh
Dr. Jaspal Singh
Dr. G.S.Dhaliwal
Dr.K. Gopal Iyer
Kavitha Kurungati

For Communications:

Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission, 5th Street, Hardayal Nagar, JAITU, District: Faridkot- 151202; Punjab.
Phones: 01635+503415 / 9872682161; E-mail
[email protected]

Dr.Gurdayal Singh, Gyan Peeth Awardee, Jaitu, Faridkot
Devinder Sharma, Agriculture Expert & Policy Analyst, New Delhi
Gobind Thukral, Senior Journalist, Chandigarh
Dr.G.S.Dhaliwal, National President, Indian Ecological Society, Ludhiana
J S Toor, Senior Advocate, National Vice-President, All India Lawyers Union , Chandigarh
Dr.Joginder Singh, Retd. Professor of Economics, PAU, Ludhiana
Shameel, Editor, Pravasi Monthly, Chandigarh
Dr Jaspal Singh, Editor, Daily Desh Sewak, Chandigarh
Kavitha Kurungati, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Scendrabad, Andhra Pradesh
Dr.K. Gopal Iyer, Retd.Professor of Sociology, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Umendra Dutt , Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission, Jaitu


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