If and when it’s cleared, the first genetically modified (GM) food crop in the country, Bt brinjal, will be grown by farmers, not by sloganeering activists. Of course, the sloganeering activists will insist that they have the farmers backing them in opposing GM crops. And if that doesn’t quite work, then they’ll use that old chestnut: activists know best. On Tuesday we saw the ‘Coalition for GM-Free India’ protesting in New Delhi with “farmers from 15 states”. Now, we are firmly of the belief that just because GM seeds bear higher yields and require less inputs despite its higher costs, that doesn’t automatically mean that Indians are ready to eat any old thing. Remember the crappy American PL-480 wheat that came to India in the 1950s?
But then, for every PL-480 wheat, there has also been IR8 rice — a high-yielding, ‘safe’ variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute that India adopted in the 1960s to meet its straining food requirements. There are naysayers and there are naysayers to the whole Bt debate in India.
Founder of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and special invitee to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, P. Bhargava, is against the current GM brinjal project because he is not at all satisfied with the lack of data on health and bio-safety provided by the company pushing for Bt brinjal, Mahyco. Fair enough. Let’s get independent data and get it right. But no, says the other naysayers who seem to have picked up fashionable ideas from GM-hating (and food-surplus) Europe. Let’s not have ‘horrible’ GM at all. How they intend to get more crops for a growing population only they know. Well, actually they don’t. Only the farmers will.