Hamara Beej

Friday, September 18, 2009

GM Free Coalition

हम सब की यही पुकार; जीo एम्o खाद्य पर करो विचार



Bihar is located in the eastern part of the country (between 83°-30' to 88°-00' longitude). It is an entirely land–locked state, although the outlet to the sea through the port of Kolkata is not far away. Bihar lies mid-way between the humid West Bengal in the east and the sub humid Uttar Pradesh in the west which provides it with a transitional position in respect of climate, economy and culture. It is bounded by Nepal in the north and by Jharkhand in the south. The Bihar plain is divided into two unequal halves by the river Ganga which flows through the middle from west to east.

Physical Features

Latitude 21°-58'-10" ~ 27°-31'-15" N
Longitude 82°-19'-50" ~ 88°-17'-40" E
Rural Area 92,257.51 sq. kms
Urban Area 1,095.49 sq. kms
Total Area 94,163.00 sq. kms
Height above Sea-Level 173 Feet
Normal Rainfall 1,205 mm
Avg. Number of Rainy Days 52.5 Days in a Year
Administrative Units
Divisions 9
Districts 38
Sub-Divisions 101
CD Blocks 534
Panchayats 8,471
Number of Revenue Villages 45,103
Number of Urban Agglomerations 9
Number of Towns 130
- Statutory Towns 125
- Non-Statutory Towns 5
Police Stations 853
- Civil Police Stations 813
- Railway Police Stations 40
Police Districts 43
- Civil Police District 39
- Railway Police District 4
Key Statistics - as per 2001 Census (Provisional)
Population 8,28,78,796
- Male 4,31,53,964
- Female 3,97,24,832

Monday, September 14, 2009

Debate On GM Food Crops

By Nayantara Som

Dr Anbumani Ramadoss has been dubbed as controversy’s favorite child ever since he was anointed as the union minister of health and family welfare of India, be it the sacking of AIIMS director Dr Venugopal for reasons obscure and illogical, or the banning of tobacco on screen, which did not go well with the film fraternity. Now Dr Anbumani Ramadoss has captivated media attention again for the wrong reasons. In a recent summit held in New Delhi, the health minister has made an outright statement voicing his dissent and disapproval for the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops in India, until proper research has been conducted on them.

Anti-GM activists have lauded the health minister’s move. Their main contention is that the transgenic food crops could lead to drastic health hazards in India, they also urged the government to freeze the commercialization of Bt food crops. The health minister asserted, “All GM food must undergo tests in Indian conditions before they are allowed into Indian markets. The Bt brinjal has not been tested in India. I am writing both to the Prime Minister and the agricultural minister about this.”

The bioagri companies have slammeda this statement as yet another publicity stunt by the health minister. As the country’s leading biotech magazine, BioSpectrum, in this special cover story, has tried to bring out all the shades of opinion and available scientific evidence to start an informed debate.

In the wake of the controversial statement, industry leaders have unanimously voiced out that Dr Anbumani Ramadoss has made the statement without any scientific backing and is hell bent on slowing down the technological progress of the industry. “It is nothing but an attempt to get political mileage,” commented an industry expert who does not wished to be named.

“Research for GM food crops like Bt brinjal has been going on for six years. The process of checking the biosafety of the crop is exhaustive and intensive. As far as quality issues are concerned the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is very stringent in giving approval for the products that come out into the market,” commented Nandkishore Kagliwal, CEO, Nath Biogene, Aurangabad.

India is one of the six leading countries that are conducting field trials of GM crops. Besides brinjal, there are over two dozen varieties of rice and an equal number of tomatoes, potato, sugarcane, soy and okra awaiting approval. GM crops like soybean, maize and corn have already been introduced in countries like Australia, Brazil, Canada and US; even after eight years of its introduction there is no opposition or health hazards which are observed.

Moreover the transgenic or the residue of the Bt protein within the food crop is so low, that it can in no way lead to any drastic health hazards altogether. “For one kilogram of a Bt food crop, the protein incorporated is just one milligram. So the whole issue of high toxicity and health hazards to humans is redundant,” opined Dr Govind Garg, head, R&D, Krishidhan Seeds.

“I do not see why the health minister has to pass such a statement since it is not his department. Even the food and agriculture department has not passed any judgment and they have also given their approval. I have full faith in the regulatory authority of India and they will consider all the aspects and will not take any hasty decision,” added Dr Govind Garg.

Suresh Agarwal, MD, Bejo Sheetal seeds, Jalna, said: “DBT has introduced some rigorous clauses. Before introduction to the market, the Bt brinjal is fed to animals, they are checked in a period of 90 days for any effect. The crops are tested in 60 locations in India. The entire spectrum of trials and tests comes up to approximately to around Rs two crores for a period of five years. So taking all this into consideration, I do not think that Dr Ramadoss’ statement has any meaning.”

The ripple effects of the Bt cotton revolution are still being felt in India and industry analysts predict that GM food crops will give birth to a similar revolutionary change in Indian agriculture “Dr Ramadoss along with anti-GM activists is doing nothing but closing doors to a technology which can actually change the face of the industry. In states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, around 30 percent of direct oil consumption is from cotton seeds for the past three years. There have been no side effects reported.” said Suresh Agarwal.

The triggering factor for Dr Ramadoss’ move was the rumors of animals like goats and cows dying when fed with Bt brinjal. This again is a sheer case of misinterpretation claims industry experts. “Ramadoss claims that the gene in brinjal caused bacterial damage in the intestine when tested on animals. However this is not the case, because it was clinically proven that the harm was not because of the gene but due to some other factors. Research for Bt food crops has been going on for such a long time and no damages have been reported till date. Such technical and scientific statements should not be made until and unless it is proven,” opined MG Shembekar, managing director, Ankur Seeds, Nagpur.

Why does India need GM crops
With the thumping success of Bt cotton, which was introduced five years ago, the bioagri community is confident that Bt brinjal will follow the same path. When Bt cotton was introduced, production of cotton immediately jumped from approximately 160 million bales in 2003 to approximately 310 million bales in 2008. This would not be the case of non-Bt cotton. Since Bt is resistant to insect attack, the wastage of food crops will get reduced and production is expected to increase four-fold.

In the case of Bt brinjal, farmers would make an additional income of around Rs 15,000 crore (that is another $3 billion) and they would be saving Rs 5,000 crore of pesticides. Moreover in a non-Bt food crop, it has been observed that pesticides need to be sprayed around 20 times to prevent the attack of insects thereby leading to detrimental effects on the environment and above all lead to health hazards to humans.

“Due to its huge population, a country like India needs increased food production to cater to the raising demand. If India becomes pro-Bt, then we will not just have increased yield and income but there will be a reduction in unnecessary wastage of crops, the product becomes marketable, there will be economic benefits to the farmer and the socio-economic gaps in the Indian populace will decrease. After visiting several villages and understanding the adverse effects of chemical pesticides in farmers, I am sure GM crops are inevitable,” Dr Govind Garg added.

Introduction of Bt brinjal will automatically be an encouraging sign for other Bt crops like Bt okra and Bt tomato. “Our country needs it more than any other country. We need better quality and quantity production of food,” pointed out Suresh Agarwal

Unlike the EU and the more advanced nations in the world where the production of non-GM food crops has touched an all time high and population is low, in India GM food crops is more of a need than just a luxury crop. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report ‘Brinjal is grown on nearly 550,000 hectares in India, making the country the second largest producer after China with a 26 percent world production share. It is an important cash crop for more than 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers. Brinjal, being a hardy crop that yields well even under drought conditions, is grown in almost all parts of the country. Major brinjal producing states are West Bengal (30 percent production share), Orissa (20 percent), and Gujarat and Bihar (around 10 percent each). In 2005-06, the national average productivity of brinjal was recorded around 15.6 tons per hectare. Despite its popularity in India, brinjal cultivation is often input intensive, especially for insecticide applications. Brinjal is prone to attack from insects, pests and diseases, the most serious and destructive of which is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) Leucinodes orbonalis. FSB feeds predominantly on brinjal and is prevalent in all brinjal producing states.’ Loses of up to 70 percent for the farmer has been reported due to this problem. On the other hand, a Bt Brinjal crop will bring a full-stop to such problems and resist FSB attack and hence lead to economic gains for the farmer.

In a recent conference in Delhi presided over by Sharad Pawar, the union minister of agriculture, two months ago, there was an unanimous opinion that GM food crops are inevitable in India. “It was a new technology, which would boost the industry, make it insecticide free and all research is going in that direction. At this point of time industries need government support. Government should have a discussion with all the stakeholders to understand their needs and demands. That will allow us to stand in competition with countries like the US and China. China has a lot of on going work in GM food crops whereas India is somewhat lagging behind. The problem in India is that despite the number of research laboratories and talent, unfortunately there is no positive work happening because of lack of incentives. In China, the government plays a proactive role. The Government of India should encourage public-private partnerships,” opined Shembekar.

If Dr Ramadoss has his way, it will be a loss not just to the industry, Indian farmers will get adversely affected. “Bt cotton was a huge success among farmers. The Bt concept was accepted widely by farmers and the GM food crops will receive the same acceptability. Research should fulfill the needs of the farmers and not the needs of politicians,” revealed Shembekar. “It has been accepted among farmers all across the country that the health minister can only delay the process but not stop the technology from being introduced,” said Suresh Agarwal.

Current work
A lot of Indian companies are already ready to either introduce new GM food crops or are planning to venture into the GM food crop production. While Mahyco will be the first company which will bring out India’s first Bt brinjal with the technology licensed by Monsanto. Nath Biogene is in the process of getting an approval for its Bt brinjal and within another three years it will introduce it into the market after which they will introduce Bt rice. Jalna-based Bejo Sheetal seeds had started research on Bt brinjal three years ago, and within two years it will launch its product into the market; Bt brinjal will be followed by Bt okra, Bt tomato and Bt cauliflower. Looking at the multi-facet benefits, Nagpur-based Ankur Seeds is also planning to focus on Bt brinjal and other GM food crops.

Bt brinjal was first developed by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco). The company used a DNA construct containing the cry1Ac gene, a CaMV 35S promoter and the selectable marker genes nptII and aad, to transform young cotyledons of brinjal plants. A single copy elite event, named EE-1, was selected and introduced into hybrid brinjal in Mahyco’s breeding program. Mahyco also donated the Bt Brinjal technology to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore and University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad. The event EE-1 was back-crossed into open-pollinated brinjal varieties. Mahyco also donated the technology to public research institutions in the Philippines and Bangladesh. Several other research institutions, both public and private have also been developing Bt brinjal using different genes. Several other research institutions, both public and private have also been developing Bt brinjal using different genes. The National Center on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) has developed Bt brinjal varieties expressing the cryFa1 gene. The technology was subsequently transferred to companies including Bejo Sheetal, Vibha Seeds, Nath Seeds and Krishidhan Seeds. The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) is also developing Bt brinjal using the cry1Ab gene. Scientists are also looking for ways to develop Bt brinjal in conjunction with other multiple and beneficial traits.

Safety concerns of GM foods
While GM foods have been branded as Frankenstein foods by their opponents citing that the products are unnatural, potentially harmful to humans and are capable of harming the environment, the arguments in favour of the same aren’t less as well. A study conducted by Lucy Carter at the University of Queensland Australia has founded that there was no evidence to justify continuing moratoriums on commercial GM planting so long as thorough risk assessments were done. The study found the benefits of GM plants and food outweighed the risks, finding no compelling evidence of harm to humans and environment.

Lauding the benefits that biotechnology has to offer Dr KK Tripathi, advisor DBT, said, “Genetic engineering has given us many benefits including decrease in pesticide use, increase in shelf life and increase in productivity. As far as the introduction of GM foods in India is concerned, all developing nations are looking towards India.” He refers to Bt brinjal, that is soon to be relased in India after relevant testst have been conducted. “It is the first product of its kind in the world. The benefit of the technology used for Bt brinjal is that there is 90 percent reduction in the pesticide use and 20 percent increase in productivity. Farmers have been asking us as to when will the seed be available to them,” Dr Tripathi added.

Dr Vibha Dhawan, executive director, Advanced Biotechnology, TERI, also exudes the same confidence. She said,” This is a wonderful technology wherein we are trying to mitigate the problem of insect attack, not by using chemicals but by modifying the crop which is not toxic to human beings, which are targeted only at the insects. In a tropical country like India, the temperature is conducive for microbes and insects and that is one of the reasons that our post-harvest losses are very high and a lot of pesticide has to be sprayed to protect the plants. The introduction of Bt brinjal will reduce the risk associated with pesticide residue, which is very high in a crop like brinjal.”

Biosafety is the biggest concern that activists and GM opponents raise when it comes to the release of GM crops. Dr Tripathi feels that we need to look at it with a fresh perspective. “ The issue of safety in case of genetic engineering comes up just because we have changed the genetic structure at the particular place with a particular trait. We have broken the species barrier, so we know that there may be something unintended and hence biosafety tests are conducted. While in hybrids(genetic modification), we change a whole lot of traits, some of which we don’t know about. So safety issues are relevant in both the cases,” he said.

RK Sinha, executive director, All India Crop Biotechnology Association, advised that with a regulatory set up in place all the worries will be eliminated. “Trials and tests are important and they are being done rigorously by the companies under the supervision of GEAC. It is only after biosafety is proved beyond doubt in regard to health of human being, animals and environment that GEAC gives permission to commercialise a product. The same process is followed in the case of Bt brinjal.” Talking about the farmers experience with Bt cotton he says, “As far as Bt cotton is concerned , the experience of the farmers is overwhelming. It is giving them returns in terms of productivity, yield etc. As far as food safety is concerned, GM food has been there for more than a decade the world over. No adverse effect has ever been reported. If it is safe for the outside world, it should be safe for India as well.”

(Nayantara Som with Jahanara Parveen and Shalini Gupta)

Mahesh Bhatt Battles Against GM Foods

By Devinder Sharma

The picture is of the panel discussion that followed the New Delhi launch of Mahesh Bhatt's documentary "Poison on the Platter." Seated on the dias are (from left to right): Ajay Kanchan, the director of the film, Jeffrey Smith, author of 'Seeds of Deception," Mahesh Bhatt, the well-known film maker and I. The Delhi launch before a packed house in the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Estate, happened on Feb 4. Mahesh Bhatt was asked what motivated him to produce a documentary on such a hot and controversial subject. This question in fact has been asked to him repeatedly. And every time he has pointed towards me saying that it was after one of our meetings that it made him think again and again on the need to take up the cause. Well, the credit certainly does not belong to me. It is simply Mahesh Bhatt's humility that he names me.

Actually, we had met for a breakfast a few months back in Guwahati (as Bhatt has said), where he had gone to launch another documentary. We had a wide ranging discussion on various aspects of the economy, and the politics attached to it. We talked at length about the great perseverance and courage demonstrated by an unknown, illiterate and poor Dashrath Majhi of Bihar, who spent some 25 -years to build a road through a small hill that separated his village from the nearest hospital. Every morning, Majhi would walk to the hill and sit down to break the rocks, and everyone thought this old man had become a mental recluse. He finally split the hill into two.

Dashrath Majhi's heroic feat was recognised by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. When Majhi fell sick, he was moved to AIIMS, New Delhi for medical treatment, and when he died he was creamated with full State honours.

It was during this talk that I mentioned about genetically modified foods. Mahesh Bhatt's curiosity to understand the political economy of the technology made me explain certain nuances and the complexities associated with it, and of course draw out the bigger frame where money and big money called the shots; where science becomes subservient to financial power, and where scientists begin to look beyond good science; where regulatory system turns into a rubber stamp for the industry, and where media -- more often the bigger media -- starts lapping up their industrial masters.

And this reminds of an interesting story. In 1994, the then Indian Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, visited the United States. Like any other visiting head of the State, the Prime Minister was expected to figure prominently in the news columns of the American newspapers. After all, he was the Prime Minister of the world’s biggest democracy.

During his visit, Mr Narasimha Rao addressed the US Congress, and on behalf of India, co-sponsored a resolution of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with the United States. The American media however completely blacked him out. There was not even a single line on the Indian Prime Minister’s visit. For the media managers, this was a nightmare. All their efforts had fallen flat. To show the presence of the Indian Prime Minister on American soil, the media planners had no alternative, except the following: they bought a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing the Prime Minister’s visit.

Ten years later, in 2003 to be precise, the American media went berserk over the news of a genetically modified potato, with a higher protein content, that had been developed by Indian scientists. The transgenic potato was projected as the probable answer to India’s gnawing crisis of malnutrition. Within hours of the breaking of this news, the international news wires were abuzz with excitement. Dailies like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and almost all the Indian newspapers for that matter had played up the story. The television channels had broadcast the report in the prime bulletins, and suddenly for the media the transgenic potato became a hot potato.

Well, it should be clear to you now as to what makes news.

Coming back to the launch of the documentary, Mahesh Bhatt was visibly agitated over the way GM foods were being pushed. He immediately told my friend Ajay Kanchan, who was also present, to take it up as a project. Ajay did the rest. The film is now released, but what is lesser known is that even the news report of the launch of the film was scuttled by many publications and TV channels. We learnt that representatives of the GM industry, which has big stakes in the introduction of the technology, had been on rounds of the newspaper offices prior to the launch convincing the managements not to publish the news report. Mahesh Bhatt however remains unfazed, and appears determined to lead the battle against the manipulation of our fundamental and basic need -- food.

Bt brinjal is now ready to be approved. It will be the first genetically modified food crop to be served on your plate. It is now your chance to accept it or reject it. If you accept it, don't blame the politicians and scientists for pushing it down your throat. Don't try to pass on the buck. It will happen only if you remain a silent spectator. Believe me, if you were to raise your voice against this unwanted and risky technology, you will actually be helping your children to live long. There will be no need then to bless them saying chiranjeev raho. If their food is safe and healthy, they will surely live long. It is therefore not your blessing but your actions that will detrmine the future of your children.

Mahesh Bhatt has played his part. It is now your turn. Are you ready ?? Debate on GM food crops.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Monsanto Barred From Selling Seeds In Bihar

By Imran Khan, Indo-Asian News Service, Patna

Monsanto India Ltd., a subsidiary of the U.S. multinational, has been barred from selling seeds in Bihar for allegedly marketing substandard products.

The action came after farmers complained that Monsanto's Cargill hybrid 900M maize seeds were substandard or contaminated as they failed to germinate and much of the winter crop failed, Agriculture Minister Shivshankar Yadav said.

Monsanto is believed to have sold 700 tonnes of seeds for the winter crop, promising farmers yields of 80 to 85 quintals per acre. The actual yield was not even 10 percent of this, according to figures available with the government.

Bihar has 180,000 acres under maize. Monsanto seeds were planted over 140,000 hectares.

The company has been asked to explain its conduct. Experts from the Rajendra Agriculture University (RAU) would study its reply before the Government decides on canceling the company's license to operate in the state, Yadav added.

Monsanto officials contend the poor yields were due to the unexpected cold weather earlier this year that had affected all hybrids across much of Bihar as well as nearby regions.

They pointed out that seed trial during the summer crop of 1996, 1997 and 1998 had produced adequate yields, after which they had been recommended to the central seed committee for notification in 1999.

Sources in the Bihar government said it was under tremendous pressure to cancel Monsanto's license because thousands of farmers were demanding compensation after being reduced to penury following the failure of the winter crop.

While the loss has not been quantified, B.N. Jha, a specialist with the Agriculture Technology Management Agency, said it would run into millions of rupees.

"Farmers sowed Cargill seeds over hundreds of acres in Muzaffarpur district but the low output has devastated us. We had not faced such a problem earlier," said an upset Aawadesh Singh, a farmer of Meenapur village in the district.

His tale is similar to that of hundreds of farmers in over a dozen districts of north Bihar including Samastipur, Darbhanga, Madhubani and West and East Champaran.

Monsanto has said it would send its teams to the affected districts to study the situation on the ground.

A Plate Full Of Toxins

by Vandana Shiva

In times when food is genetically manipulated and chemically contaminated, the metaphor "food for thought" can also stand for manipulated information and be toxic food for thought. Unfortunately, Dr M.S. Swaminathan's GM: Food for Thought (August 26), is as manipulated as the genetically-modified (GM) foods which were the subject of his article.

Dr Swaminathan's first scientific manipulation was the argument that conventional plant "breeding methods are very time consuming and often not very accurate. However, with the recombinant DNA technology, plants with the desired traits can be produced very rapidly and with greater accuracy". This is scientifically false. Genetic engineering is a crude and blind technology of shooting genes into an organism through a "gene gun". It’s like infecting the organism with a "cancer". It is not known if the transgene is introduced, and that is why antibiotic resistance markers have to be used. Nor is it known where in the genome the transgene gets introduced. This is not "accuracy", it is literally shooting in the dark.

Further, the genetically engineered construct is introduced into existing crops that are bred by conventional breeding methods. Thus Bt Cotton (Bt stands for Bacillus Thuringenesis) is the introduction of Bt genes into existing hybrids in the case of Mahyco (a company that produces and markets a broad range of seeds developed with biotechnology), and into a selection in the case of the Central Cotton Research Institute. GM technology does not substitute conventional breeding, it is dependent on it. Thus the arguments of "speed" as well as "accuracy" are false.

The second scientific inaccuracy in Dr Swaminathan’s article is the claim that through GM technology "we can isolate a gene responsible for conferring drought tolerance, introduce that gene into a plant, and make it drought tolerant".

Drought tolerance is a polygenetic trait. It is, therefore, scientifically flawed to talk of "isolating a gene for drought tolerance". Genetic engineering tools are so far only able to transfer single gene traits. That is why in 20 years only two single gene traits have been commercialised through genetic engineering. One is herbicide resistance and the second is the Bt toxin trait.

Navdanya Trust’s recent report (Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops: Gene giants are stealing farmers innovation of drought resistant, flood resistant and salt resistant varieties) shows that farmers have bred corps that are resistant to climate extremes. And it is these traits, a result of a millennia of farmers breeding, that are now being patented and pirated by the genetic engineering industry. Using farmers’ varieties as "genetic material", the biotechnology industry is playing genetic roulette to gamble on which gene complexes are responsible for which trait. This is not done through genetic engineering; it is done through software programs like "Athlete" that uses "vast amounts of available genomic data (mostly public) to rapidly reach a reliable limited list of candidate key genes with high relevance to a target trait of choice. Allegorically, the Athlete platform could be viewed as a "machine" that is able to choose 50-100 lottery tickets from amongst hundreds of thousands of tickets, with the high likelihood that the winning ticket will be included among them".

Breeding is being replaced by gambling, innovation is giving way to biopiracy, and science is being substituted by propaganda.

One aspect of the propaganda related to GM crops is that they will feed the world. Dr Swaminathan writes, "The world population has crossed six billion and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is a major challenge in the years to come. GM crops promise to meet this need in a number of ways".

The claim to increased yield is false because yield, like climate resilience, is a multi-genetic trait. Introducing toxins into a plant through herbicide resistance or Bt toxin increases the "yield" of toxins, not of food or nutrition.

Even the nutrition argument is manipulated. Golden rice genetically engineered to increase Vitamin A produces 70 times less Vitamin A than available alternatives. The same applies to the iron-enriched rice that the M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation is working on. The low-cost, high-impact route to reduce anaemia (iron deficiency) in women and children is by growing and making available iron-rich foods such as bathua, methi, shajan etc.

The false claim of higher food production has been dislodged by a recent study by Dr Doug Gurian Sherman, a former biotech specialist for the US Environmental Protection Agency and former adviser on GM to the US Food and Drug Administration, titled "Failure to Yield". Sherman states, "Let us be clear. There are no commercialised GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops in the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertiliser pollution or save soil. Not one".

Another aspect of science being substituted by propaganda is the false claim of safety. Dr Swaminathan claims, "Environmental activists, religious organisations, non-governmental organisations, have all raised concerns about GM foods, and criticised agribusiness for pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and criticised the government for failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. Most concerns about GM foods fall into three categories — environmental hazards, human health risks and economic concerns. Unintended harm to other organisms; reduced effectiveness of pesticides; gene transfer to non-target species are some of the concerns of the environmental concerns of GM crops. There is no scientific evidence to prove any of these concerns as real, since commercialisation of transgenic crops have taken place over the past 10 years in the world".

Percy Schmeiser stands as the most important victim of genetic contamination. His canola crop was contaminated by the "Round Up Resistant" canola produced by Monsanto, a chemical company. Monsanto sued him claiming that the genes of "Round Up Resistant" canola were their "intellectual property" and that he was a thief. The "polluter pays" principle has been replaced by the "polluted gets paid" principle.

France, Germany and Austria have banned Monsanto Mon 810 corn, a Bt corn, because of scientific research showing risks of genetic instability, allergenicity, infertility, turmorogenecity.

Dr Swaminathan’s statement that "there is no scientific evidence" to prove risks and hazards flies in the face of all evidence.

Dr Swaminathan is also wrong in claiming there are no socio-economic risks. The concentration of farmers’ suicides in the Bt cotton belt of Punjab, Vidarbha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is tragic proof of the high socio-economic costs of Bt cotton.

Dr Swaminathan has also manipulated the "safety" of Bt cotton. He states, "One of the best known examples of using non-plant genes to transform crops is the use of Bt genes in cotton and many other crops. Bt, or Bacillus Thuringenesis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal only to insect larvae, Bt genes are lethal only in the acidic, insect gut environment and do not get activated in an alkaline environment, prevalent in humans and other animals that feed on these plants".

While it is true that the naturally-occurring Bt, which is an endo toxin, becomes a toxin only in the gut of insect larvae, the genetically-engineered Bt toxin is a readymade toxin. But Navdanya's research in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, this has shown that Bt cotton is killing beneficial micro-organisms in the soil. Reports of deaths of animals grazing in Bt cotton fields are also related to the fact that Bt toxin in plants is a broad spectrum, readymade toxin unlike the naturally occurring Bt in the soil organism. (Andhra Pradesh’s animal husbandary department’s report takes note of an increasing number of deaths of animals and pests who graze in Bt cotton fields.)

We cannot afford toxic "food for thought" as a diet for our minds, just as we cannot afford toxic, genetically-engineered food as a diet for our bodies.

It is time for authentic, unbiased, independent and holistic science to inform the GM data. Not the false propaganda being peddled as science.

(Dr. Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust. This article was published in The Asian Age, Sept.11, 2009 which can be visited here.)