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Updated: August 12, 2013 00:18 IST

Nip this in the bud

Aruna Rodrigues
Comment (37)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Genetically modified crops, whose ecological effects are irreversible, could become a mainstay of Indian agriculture thanks to collusion between the government and the biotech industry

The final report of the Supreme Court-appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on field trials of genetically modified crops is packed with revelations on what is wrong with institutional governance and regulation in India when it comes to GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The report’s release late last month came days before biotech giant Monsanto decided not to submit any further applications for GMOs to the European Union; a decision forced by non-acceptance on scientific grounds and rejection by civil society.

Remarkable consensus

The TEC Final Report (FR) is the fourth official report which exposes the lack of integrity, independence and scientific expertise in assessing GMO risk. It is the third official report barring GM crops or their field trials singularly or collectively. This consensus is remarkable, given the regulatory oversight and fraud that otherwise dog our agri-institutions. The pervasive conflict of interest embedded in those bodies makes sound and rigorous regulation of GMOs all but impossible.

The four reports are: The ‘Jairam Ramesh Report’ of February 2010, imposing an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal, overturning the apex Regulator’s approval to commercialise it; the Sopory Committee Report (August 2012); the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) Report on GM crops (August 2012) and now the TEC Final Report (June-July 2013). The TEC recommends that in general, there should be an indefinite stoppage of all open field trials (environmental release) of GM crops, conditional on systemic corrections, including comprehensive and rigorous risk assessment protocols. The report includes a specific focus on Bt food crops.

It also calls for a ban on the environmental release of any GMO where India is the centre of origin or diversity. It also says herbicide tolerant (HT) crops, targeted for introduction by the regulator, should not be open field-tested. The TEC “finds them completely unsuitable in the Indian context as HT crops are likely to exert a highly adverse impact over time on sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods, and environment.”

The PSC report which preceded that of the TEC was no less scathing: it was “ [...] convinced that these developments are not merely slippages due to oversight or human error but indicative of collusion of a worst kind [...] field trials under any garb should be discontinued forthwith”.

Sound science and factual data form the basis of the TEC decisions. There is practical and ethical sense too. The TEC insists that the government bring in independence, scientific expertise, transparency, rigour and participative democracy into GMO regulation and policy. The accent is on bio-safety.

Assessment and performance

GMOs produce “unintended effects” that are not immediately apparent and may take years to detect. This is a laboratory-based, potent technology, described by WHO as “unnatural.” The risk assessment (RA) protocols for GMOs are an evolving process to be performed by qualified and experienced experts who must be responsive to the latest scientific knowledge. The fact is that GMOs involve us in a big experiment in the idea that human agencies can perform adequate risk assessment, which, it is expected, will deliver safety at every level/dimension of their impact on us — the environment, farming systems, preservation of biodiversity, human and animal safety.

After 20 years since the first GM crop was commercialised in the U.S., there is increasing evidence, not less, of the health and environment risks from these crops. Furthermore, we now have 20 years of crop statistics from the U.S., of two kinds of crops that currently make up over 95 per cent of all GM crops cultivated globally, (like Bt cotton) Bt and HT crops. The statistics demonstrate declining yields. GM yields are significantly lower than yields from non-GM crops. Pesticide use, the great “industry” claim on these GM crops, instead of coming down, has gone up exponentially. In India, notwithstanding the hype of the industry, the regulators and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Bt cotton yield is levelling off to levels barely higher than they were before the introduction of Bt.

It takes roughly $150 million to produce a GMO against $1 million through conventional breeding techniques. So where is the advantage and why are we experimenting given all the attendant risks? We have hard evidence from every U.N. study and particularly the World Bank-funded International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge and Science for Development Report, which India signed in 2008. The IAASTD was the work of over 400 scientists and took four years to complete. It was twice peer reviewed. The report states we must look to small-holder, traditional farming to deliver food security in third world countries through agri-ecological systems which are sustainable. Governments must invest in these systems. This is the clear evidence.

Conflict of interest

The response to the TEC Final Report came immediately, with the Ministry of Agriculture strongly opposing the report. The MoA is a vendor of GM crops and has no mandate for regulating GMOs. The same Ministry had lobbied and fought to include an additional member on the TEC after its interim report had been submitted. That ‘new’ member came in with several conflicts of interest, his links to the GM crops lobby being widely known. His entry was in fact a breach of the Supreme Court’s mandate for an independent TEC and provoked me to file an affidavit in the court, drawing attention to this. Oddly enough, he did not sign the final report, or even put up a note of dissent. This allowed the final report, then, to be unanimous; as indeed was the TEC’s Interim Report submitted by the original five members.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) promotes PPPs (Public-Private-Partnerships) with the biotechnology industry. It does this with the active backing of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The MoA has handed Monsanto and the industry access to our agri-research public institutions placing them in a position to seriously influence agri-policy in India. You cannot have a conflict of interest larger or more alarming than this one. Today, Monsanto decides which Bt cotton hybrids are planted — and where. Monsanto owns over 90 per cent of planted cotton seed, all of it Bt cotton.

All the other staggering scams rocking the nation do have the possibility of recovery and reversal. The GM scam will be of a scale hitherto unknown. It will also not be reversible because environmental contamination over time will be indelible. We have had the National Academies of Science give a clean chit of biosafety to GM crops — doing that by using paragraphs lifted wholesale from the industry’s own literature! Likewise, Ministers in the PMO who know nothing about the risks of GMOs have similarly sung the virtues of Bt Brinjal and its safety to an erstwhile Minister of Health. They have used, literally, “cut & paste” evidence from the biotech lobby’s “puff” material. Are these officials then, “un-caged corporate parrots?”

Along with the GM-vendor Ministries of Agriculture and Science & Technology, these are the expert inputs that the Prime Minister relies on when he pleads for “structured debate, analysis and enlightenment.” The worrying truth is that these values are absent in what emanates from either the PMO or the President.

Ministries, least of all “promoting” Ministries, should not have the authority to allow the novel technology of GMOs into Indian agriculture bypassing authentic democratic processes. Those processes require the widest possible — and transparent — consultation across India. With GMOs we must proceed carefully, always anchored in the principle of bio-safety. Science and technology may be mere informants into this process. After all, it is every woman, man and child, and our animals, an entire nation that will quite literally have to eat the outcome of a GM policy that delivers up our agriculture to it: if a GMO is unsafe, it will remain irreversibly unsafe. And it will remain in the environment and that is another dimension of impact.

(The author is the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court for a moratorium on GMOs and in which case the TEC was formed. She can be reached at: arunarod@gmail.com)

Traditional way of farming is more sustainable ,but organic farming has its own lighter disadvantage which can be sometimes bigger disadvantage to especially developing countries like India because of cost of farming is costlier then modern method .and many of our farmers can't afford such type of farming .

Instead they can practice honey sucker method following some parts of Karnataka which can bring sustainability with organic farming and in turn we can save our indigenous crop like jayadhar

from:  Kiran
Posted on: Aug 14, 2013 at 01:04 IST

Farhat is being extremely vague. He has not disclosed the "university" where he is/was supposed to be working, he does not name the South "African" plant or the "South American" plant, or the countries in Africa and South America. He does not give us even a hint of the scientific methods used for introducing the gene into the African plant. If Farhat is a scientist, he ought to know that there are plant breeding methods that do not depend on what is popularly known as "genetic engineering" or "genetic modification". The anti-GM campaigners would actually welcome such an approach. A recent instance of a successful procedure (reported in The Hindu also) has been the creation of a rice variety that can grow and yield well in phosphorus deficient soils.
Also, what is the agricultural product that Europe would import from Africa?

from:  T S Raman PhD
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 19:22 IST

@Farhat
Biologically there definitely is a difference between conventional
breeding and GM. GM crops have proved to be a poison without doubt
killing the bees and poisoning the soil. Ideally GM crops must be
rejected in India. At worst there must be strict labeling of crops that
are GM so that people have a choice as to what they will eat.

from:  rajiv
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 17:38 IST

If we want to feed the masses and improve their health, we cannot avoid
genetically modified food. And conventional breeding techniques are genetic
modification techniques, they just happen on a longer timescale. I am reminded of
a case that some researchers at my university worked on for a drought tolerant
crop. They identified and modified the genes to make a crop better tolerant to
drought. This significantly improved its yields in Africa where irrigation may be
irregular and sparse. Now, a second concern arose that the crops could not be
exported to Europe because of the farm lobby over there. So they launched a
global search for a natural occurrence of the modified gene finally finding it in a
South American plant. With some effort, they introduced the gene from the South
American plant into the crop and now the resulting product was okay since the
gene was 'naturally' occurring. Biologically there is no difference between the
results of the two approaches.

from:  Farhat
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 14:15 IST

Love & Respect nature. Stop Monsanto.

from:  Hari Krishnan
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 07:26 IST

This is too biased. Coming after all from a petitioner. Could well be sponsored by
corporate rivals from Europe. Also the author is a lawyer, not a scientist. Wonder if
the pros can be known from reliable and authoritative sources

from:  S Chandrasekhar
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 06:31 IST

We people need to stand up against Monsanto lobbying our government. Our government succumbs to bribery in almost all aspects of policy decision involving mega corporations. But, in this specific case affecting the food supply, there can only be zero tolerance. I don't understand, why Monsanso employees don't realize, if they propagate GMOs, at the end of the day, they will consume the same thing. Health statistics in US in the past 2 decades speak for itself, with so many disorders that are rampant among many Americans. We cannot afford to do this to our populous. Monsanto was wrong on DDT, Agent Orange, and they lost credibility for their recommendations.

from:  Anand
Posted on: Aug 13, 2013 at 02:24 IST

India shamelessly became an experimental ground for MNCs like
Monsanto.Many of our farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra, thanks to
Bt cotton.Its not our policy makers concern at all.They should
understand that the food they eat is not produced by theories,but by the
sweat of Indian farmers.

from:  Ajith P Achandy
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 23:45 IST

1. The TEC has argued for a better regulatory system to be in place before field
trials are started. What this should do is open a good discussion without activists
impinging upon and mis-representing science (like in this article). The author of
this article deliberately misplaces TEC's and other arguments. Like all activist
articles it's filled with vague innuendo, plays on people's fears. Take for example
the first paragraph, where she talks about TEC and Monsanto's non-filing of new
applications in Europe. How are these two connected?
2. Agreed, regulation when the technology is new is natural and necessary, and
the system to regulate it should be thorough and strong. However, how does a
lack of regulation mean dishonest industry, and hence an unsafe technology?
GMO's, if regulated properly would be good and exciting. A pathological fear of
GMO's because you vaguely understand it is commonplace and stupid. And so is
the tone of this article.

from:  Harshit
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 20:14 IST

From how many nations and states you would be enlightened when knowledge here
has less role to play and proactiveness on d part of the state is quintessentially
required.. even when ample data is provided it is not difficult to see the blame-game
and apathetic trait our state towards any allegations. They have acknowledged the for
granted nature of citizens who may know who is popular to be the next candidate 2 be
pm but rarely they know about the food they eat... its necessary first of all non state
actors along wid other institutions to act more on such issues and get planned out for
policy before a disease with anti immunity trait becomes precariously threatful to us.
Knowledge is not an end here but a means where such information could be scattered
in our electronic and regional media houses , so remote corners are aware of such
sensitive issues ... albeit the author has given stupendous idea about issue it is
responsibility of all of us to decipher nd simplify it to d layman.

from:  T. Amit
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 19:51 IST

India has vast land.How India can have shortage of food ! Also working
hands !
It is the greed of Govt policy to export food like
onions,sugar,wheat,rice etc to earn foreign exchange.

from:  Ashok
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 18:37 IST

A stitch in time saves nine and I appreciate Smt. Aruna for her
intiative to protect our farm lands from contaminating with GMO.
When it appeared in our Hindu a couple of months ago I have
emphasised the need for protecting our traditional farming method.

from:  anilendran menon
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 17:48 IST

This changes it all. It is a hard choice between going hungry or dying slowly from
poisons that have helped the food reach our table during various stages of its
journey. On one hand we are merely shuffling genes that nature missed out in a
desired species. At the molecular biology level, its fine. But at the dietary level, is it fine. We do not fully understand the complex mechanisms by which our diet interacts with our body (read gut microflora, the naturally occurring micro-
organisms in our intestines or our immune system etc). Preservatives have changed the way we use food. But look at the incidence of cancers, autoimmune diseases cardiovascular problems in western countries. Do we need to follow suit. Is their dietary model ideal.

from:  jyothi
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 17:16 IST

If food security is concern of our government then they must focus on such GMO/alternate techniques which can use alternate techniqes of crop production,like hydroponics and aeroponics to get significant yield and that too without effecting the bio-diversity. Heavy investment in these field is a must.

from:  akash
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 17:01 IST

India... Wake up ... our government is not for the people...

Please educate the people of the effects of any technology and ask for their opinion and take sustainable growth as target than high yeild for one time.

their should always be people's interest and health should be of high importance than profit.

from:  Durga
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 16:36 IST

Aruna R has put all the facts together. if India Govt has to take a decision, it should be based on the four reports that she has highlighted. Good, credible reports and all from the best and most objective quarters.

But the big question is will our Prime Minister and his Agriculture Minister keep farmers, public and environmental concerns above Monsanto and their poison-profit interest.

from:  Sridhar R
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 16:27 IST

Already we have faced natural disasters, political disasters please dont introduce agriculture disaster

from:  Charan Reddy
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 15:59 IST

Rather than promoting this GMO food aggressively, the government (especially agri ministry) should choose to promote the age old proven techniques to improve yeild. There are many organic (or natural) farmers who have pratically shown that it is possible to get more yields with indigenous seeds than GMO seeds without even using the chemical fertilisers and pesticides. There are some Krishi Vigyan Kendras which have successfully demonstrated the benefits of organic farming to lots of farmers thus converting them to this sustainable way of farming. Lot of state govts too recognised the value of sustainable agriculture (organic farming with bio fertilisers and pesticides) and promoting them by allotting significant funds. Instead of following sustainable agricultural approach, going to GMO seeds is suicidal. I appreciate the work of Aruna ji and other supporters of sustainable farming for their dedication towards this cause and efforts.

from:  srikanth gangineni
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 15:02 IST

I totally agree with this view:"We should try to continue cultivation of our indigenous species and improve yield with modern methods rather than GM crops".

from:  Dr. D. Venkataraghava Reddy
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 14:28 IST

If this is allowed then it is a bigger disaster than any thing that we have seen so far. Economically we will loose our independence.

from:  K Kiran Kumar
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 14:20 IST

Monsanto and other big giants proposing the GM crops have identified Indians as the fools who can take whatever Monsanto proposes just with a little bribe,after EU closed their doors.
Can Indian citizens be included in the decision making atleast in matters concerning their very own health and environment and not New Delhi act on its own.

from:  Archana
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 13:41 IST

The story of Indigo Farming that started with colonialism, continuing now at an accelerated pace.

from:  BMPrasad
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 13:37 IST

We should try to continue cultivation of our indigenous species and improve yield with modern methods rather than GM crops.

from:  Sree
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 13:22 IST

Thanks for the article.
It is evident that the govt is using false propaganda to encourage GM crops.
The GM industry is not open about its lab tests. Other industries like chemical, cosmetics, etc are made to submit a lot more test reports of long term exposure than GM company Monsanto.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 13:08 IST

This is the trend of govt , the govt forms committee by committee, it will stop only when some committee gives a favorable report, what is the point in having 4th report on GM corps when the first report it self says it is not good for our country to have GMO crops.

When all the countries moves from technology then India opts , take the case of nuclear power plants and now GMO .

India should run by good governance not by good lobbying .

from:  manohar
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 12:59 IST

Can someone effective raise a pitch to add punishment for failing to check all dimentions involved - prior to approving any deal? Also, media should highlight people involved in committees and their background and achievements - on the regular basis. We see CBI chiefs, Defence chiefs, etc being appointed and we hardly know the contender's and their background. I believe this will bring more light to we, the end readers and sufferers.

from:  Avinash Baranwal
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 12:38 IST

Wonderful articlle, Aruna

from:  John Santiago
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 12:24 IST

The crux of this article is the claim that, "in 20 years in US, GM crops yield lower than non-GM crops and that fertilizer yield on these crops is going down."
Either this writer or The Hindu should present this data from reputable peer reviewed sources. From what I have heard, this claim by this writer is not correct. But I am writing articles for a newspaper. I would expect this data to be clearly published before an argument can be begun.

from:  ashokr
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 10:28 IST

This is a very insightful article and very relevant. As mentioned in
the article this is the biggest issue India is facing. The burgeoning
crisis in the availability of agriculture land and the increasing
price of fruits and vegetable is indeed a challenge faced by the
common man. Everyone wants an apartment and hence they are left with a
compact space for living. But in the flat most of them have resorted
to farming in the patio or terrace. Thus growing the fruits and
vegetables they use the most. Recently we have also come across news
stating that some of the apartment owners have started growing coconut
trees. The bottom line is necessity is the mother of invention.
Let this article help increase awareness on the danger of using GM
crops.

from:  Meenu Pillai
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 10:08 IST

The forcible adoption of foreign technology without conducting adequate research and
consensus in the democratic country has became a the habit of the ruling party. They are more concern about their monetary benefits of their own rather than larger common man of this country.

from:  Ashish Kr Gupta
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 09:25 IST

A very insightful article published by The Hindu for fencesitters like me. The usual argument for promoting the risky proposition of GMO is the higher yield, lower wastage, higher resilience to pests etc. The statistics provided by the writer Aruna are convincing that in the long run, we are better off with traditional crops on our food security. Cotton is still a cash crop and we took a chance. Enough is enough, let us not risk our lives and nation in the food chain like brinjal ans other vegetables. Let us learn from Europe on how to make ecologically correct decisions.

from:  Gajamani
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 07:56 IST

Thanks Ms. Rodrigues for the informative article. The decision makers in Delhi would be listening to any sane word of advice is completely a long shot. Their positions of power are dependent upon being subservient of the Multinational Giants who have been bribing them and arm twisting them for years. The Mafia od criminals which have high jacked all the functioning institutions of the country, and who are finaly want to even destroy the authority of the Supreme Court would not rest until each and every shred of biodiversity of the Nation is destroyed. That's the joint agenda of the Sonia and Multinational Mafia.

from:  Milind Ranade
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 07:54 IST

I sincerely thank and appreciate Aruna ji, for her commendable efforts
in bringing the issue of GM crops scandal to the notice of Supreme
Court, which subsequently lead to the TEC. Scandal, since their
adverse impact and failed promises are glaringly evident in USA.

I believe and wish that the mechanism of regaining/retaining
ownership of conventional seeds by farming communities must be
strengthened by the NGOs over the next decade while a moratorium is
put in place for the field trials of these destructive seeds, so that
it can still be warded off by the community regardless of what the
government chooses to do.

from:  Raghavendra Adla
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 06:13 IST

The Author rightly points to the inherent risks of GMOs. What is
appalling is the way in which important Policy decisions are taken. It
looks like "public interest", which should be the main criteria is
forsaken and Policy decisions are taken to serve and extend the
"Private interests".

As the Author rightly points, we need to develop and institutionalize
right Policy making process, with Public interest at the core. All the
stake holders should be made aware of all the pros and cons of a
Policy Decision explained logically and lucidly.

from:  Arun Thokala
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 05:51 IST

Whole capitalism survive on controling suply and production network,,first they destroy natural seed,making farmer great benefit,monopolise the market of supply of seed, they raised the prize alarming high,whole their claim proved wrong after few years,whole drama is being enected by bribing and making partners of whole political and executive class and paid media, shamefully it s provided as gospel truth

from:  Bhupinder
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 05:08 IST

The TEC report did not discuss the science behind the fundamental difference
between conventionally bred cultivars and the GM crops, and did not discuss why
the conventionally bred cultivars are treated safe, and GM crops unsafe (based on
science).
Also there are large number of other human activities (increased use of
pesticide/insecticide, herbicide, emissions from vehicles), which are causing more
damage to environment and human health than GM crops, but hardly any voice is
raised against these activities

from:  Pushpendra Gupta
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 05:04 IST

one must think of protecting the environment first.Either It be our Prime Minister,PMO,MoA,MoS&Tor we as an ordinary citizens.We must encourage conventional crops on our land if we have to achieve sustainable development.

from:  Alok Kumar
Posted on: Aug 12, 2013 at 00:56 IST
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