While virtually every statement made by G Padmanaban in India should not shut itself to GM crops (August 7) can be contradicted by incontrovertible facts, I will confine my remarks to the following points that would argue against his major contentions.
Bt cotton is far from having been an unqualified success in India. It has worked only in irrigated areas and not in rain-fed regions that represent two-thirds of the area under cotton cultivation in the country. Out of over 270,000 farmers’ suicides, a substantial number has been of Bt cotton farmers. In Andhra Pradesh, there have been deaths of thousands of cattle that grazed on the remnants of Bt cotton plants after harvesting of cotton. Resistance to pests in Bt cotton has developed over the years. Further, there has been a marked increase in the number of secondary pests such as mealy bug, and the soil where Bt cotton has been grown over a prolonged period has become incapable of sustaining any other crop. What is amazing (and raises important questions) is why we didn’t use established alternatives such as integrated pest management for cotton, instead of using untested Bt technology.
The Central government departments that have been acting as peddlers of GM technology — probably in collusion with the MNCs marketing GM seeds — have shown little respect for law. Thus, Bt cotton seeds were sold to farmers before they were formally approved by the government in 2002, but nothing was done about it.
Ninety per cent of the member countries of the United Nations, including almost all countries of Europe, haven’t permitted GM crops or unlabelled GM food. Once the labelling is there, people would not buy the food.
There are over 500 research publications by scientists of indisputable integrity, who have no conflict of interest, that establish harmful effects of GM crops on human, animal and plant health, and on the environment and biodiversity. For example, a recent paper by Indian scientists showed that the Bt gene in both cotton and brinjal leads to inhibition of growth and development of the plant. On the other hand, virtually every paper supporting GM crops is by scientists who have a declared conflict of interest or whose credibility and integrity can be doubted.
In the United States, where GM food (such as corn and soya) has been consumed for over 15 years, there has been a continuous rise in the incidence of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. While this does not establish a cause and effect relationship, it does not rule out this possibility, particularly in the light of what has been argued in the previous section.
The argument that we need GM technology to feed the increasing population of India is fallacious. Even with low productivity, which can be increased, we even now produce sufficient grain in the country to take care of our requirement, if only we do not allow 40% of our food produce to be wasted and everyone has the resources to buy the needed food. And we can double our food production by using non-GM technologies, such as molecular breeding.
We have no guidelines that would be scientifically valid and stringent enough for testing GM crops for safety. For example, few chronic toxicity tests have been done anywhere on GM food crops. Whenever these tests have been done, GM food has been shown to lead to cancer.
It is well-known that the US would like to control food production around the world by marketing patented GM seeds. Sixty-four per cent of our population derive their sustenance from agriculture-related activities. Therefore, whosoever controls Indian agriculture would control the country. To control our agriculture, one needs to control only seeds and agro-chemicals.
The MNCs that sell GM seeds that are protected by intellectual property rights also sell agro-chemicals. If we allow such MNCs to control our seed production, we would surely de facto lose our freedom.
Do we need more arguments against GM crops?
Pushpa M Bhargava is founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and currently the chairman of the Council for Social Development, Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad
The views expressed by the author are personal