The meet will give rein to hazardous industries, says Coalition for GM-free India

The Ministry of Agriculture has no intentions of keeping off a conference it has supported despite the Coalition for GM-free India having taken umbrage at the government associating with an event organised by the agrochemical industry to be addressed by speakers known for being promoters of genetically modified (GM) crops as an answer to food security.

In a letter written to Agriculture and Food Processing Minister Sharad Pawar, the group urged the government not to go ahead with the conference scheduled for next week, saying it would provide a platform to hazardous industries and waste precious public funds in support of their cause.

Quoting from the Parliamentary Standing Committee recommendations on Agriculture, the group said that the panel had clearly warned the government against the “facilitative benevolence” of opening the agriculture sector up to private prospectors as done in communications, pharma, mineral wealth and other sectors… “If the shortcomings in the food sector are addressed, there would not be any compelling need for adopting technologies which are yet to be proven totally safe for biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and which will encourage monoculture — an option best avoided,” the panel had observed.

The coalition said the conference had “a predominance of vested interests behind it promoting the conference with full-page advertisements in newspapers such as the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India, the biotech-lobby group [Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises] and the National Seed Association of India. It has included controversial speakers who are known for their support to GM crops without supporting scientific facts or evidence.”

“It is unethical for the Ministry to blatantly promote technologies such as genetically modified crops, when India is trying to come out of the pesticide treadmill and make its production, farming and farmers’ livelihood sustainable, safe and remunerative,” it added.

The coalition has objected to the Ministry, which is “answerable to the larger public, acting at the behest of these industries who stand to profit from these unneeded and hazardous technologies”.

The conference, ‘Doubling Food Production in Five Years’, is slated to be inaugurated by President Pranab Mukheree with Mr. Pawar as a key speaker. Among other invitees are Chief Ministers of Gujarat, Bihar and Mizoram and known supporters of farm reforms and GM technology, including Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Y.K. Alagh, Ashok Gulati, Raju Barwale, Suresh Prabhu, Swapna Datta, R.B. Singh and Rajju Shroff. Other invitees include agricultural analyst Dennis Avery, environmental activists Mark Lynas, Patrick Moore and Peter Raven, some of whom, according to the coalition, are associated with large agro-business corporations.

Official sources told The Hindu that this was not the first time that the Ministry was supporting such an event. The Ministry supported any conference related to agriculture, and GM crops was but one component, they said.