Satheesh on labellling in India (24/4/2006)

Protect farmers' interests
Are new regulations for GM crops a boon for agribiotech?

The writer is director, Deccan Development Society

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 in 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, Bt cotton, crashed taking along with it hundreds of farmers lives — what is the obscene hurry to open the gates for GM crops? Why are we rushing in where angels are afraid to tread?

As recently as three months ago, Switzerland rejected GM 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? Here are few examples.

In a recent experiment, the noted Russian scientist 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 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 USFDA show that rats fed with 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 tip 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 a country like India, 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 GenNext from declaring their undying allegiance to the soft drink. 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.


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